The rest of that slogan usually goes: “What are we gonna do? Stand up, fight back!”
One can only wish that the dormant abortion rights movement had been educating the public and building a movement to challenge the decision like the one that came down from the Supreme Court yesterday–before it happened. Instead, the “movement,” such as it is, has been preoccupied with two misguided strategies:
1) Campaign and vote for candidates from the Democratic party. Relying on Democrats to protect abortion rights is like turning over a child abused by his father over to the Catholic church–well intentioned noises are a cover for ongoing violation. Clinton curtailed abortion rights. The Hyde amendment in 1976 was a Democratic initiative, renewed every year, that bars poor women from receiving funds to help them afford abortions. (And then, when they are denied that, they are vilified for having children out of wedlock; their kids get no help from the system, either. It is the height of hypocrisy.) Roe was handed down by a conservative court when Nixon was President–because there was a movement of hundreds of thousands holding our rulers’ feet to the fire.
2) Stressing “common ground” with abortion opponents, pitching prevention and contraception to the exclusion of even mentioning abortion as necessary to women’s liberation; giving ground on the question of whether abortion is a moral wrong. Even this morning, the day after the decision outlawing late term intact dilation and extraction abortion–an extremely rare procedure undertaken only in situations of gross fetal malformation or threats to the life of the mother misnamed by the right as “partial birth” abortion, the Director of Planned Parenthood gave an interview to NPR in which she not once mentioned abortion rights. Instead, she wished the right would get on board with contraception education. This stance is nothing less than a betrayal of women who fought for and still depend up the right to control their lives.
The failure to mention defense of the right to abortion is made more traitorous by the fact that the Court upheld a decision that made no exception for the life or health of the mother. We may as well have decided that it is ok to shoot women in the head if they have life-threatening complications at the end of pregnancy.
It is painfully clear by now that this strategy, pioneered by Naomi Wolff and Hillary Clinton, has not stemmed the anti-abortion onslaught. It is insane to keep employing this strategy when we know abortion rights were won by a fighting movement that realized that control over reproduction is key to the freedom of women worldwide.
Many people don’t know that 46% of women in the U.S. over the course of their lifetimes will seek an abortion. Young women, poor women, religious women, radical women, conservative women, liberal women, women of color, women with disabilities, married women, and single women. Most of these women seek very early first-trimester abortions when the developing fetus is little more than a clump of cells. For many, like me, the ability to choose abortion means the difference between a life lived in undereducated hardship and a fully realized personhood.
This court decision is widely recognized to put us one step nearer to losing the right to choose at all. Already nearly 90% of counties have no abortion providers. Many states put punitive and dangerous restrictions–parental consent, spousal consent, waiting period, and so on–on the right, making young and poor women and victims of domestic abuse either have babies or wait until abortion is much more complicated and dangerous.
Since the early 1990s, the women’s movement has given ground to anti-abortion forces and here we are. I am terrified that a whole new generation of women and men will have to learn in the back alleys and septic wards, the hard way, what it means to lose this basic right. Those forced to have children will learn the hard way, too, the limits of what the right means when it says it is “pro-life.” Only until you are born. Then, you and your parents are on your own.
We should be in open revolt. All I can say to the leadership of the mainstream women’s movement is, stay out of my way.
More on this decision from a friend:
The Supreme Court just handed down a ruling upholding the federal law outlawing ‘partial birth’ abortion. From a very quick skimming of the opinion, (called Gonzales v. Carhart) it appears to be a substantial departure from Roe & Casey that will have big ramifications for women’s reproductive rights well beyond the area of partial birth abortions. Here’s why:
The case is a substantial departure from Casey & Stenborg in three respects:
-it seems to obliterate the requirement for a mother’s health exception by endorsing the claim that partial birth abortions of the kind targeted here are never medically necessary, and therefore no health exception is required;
-it seems to undo the line between pre-viability abortions and post-viability abortions by asserting that “the fetus is a living organism while in the womb, whether or not it is viable outside of the womb.” That may effectively open the door to many more restrictions on early term abortions. (This may be the most damaging part of the opinion.)
-further, the court seems to bypass the usual constitutionally accepted reasons for restricting abortions – mother’s health and interest in potential life as fetal viability (the law in question only bans a certain abortion procedure, it does not ban abortions in any individual case per se). Rather, there appears to be a kind of normative or moral reasoning here that gives a new and very different meaning to the state’s “interest in potential life” that does not pertain to the fate of a single fetus.
There might not be much that remains of Roe.