Revolution #239, July 17, 2011

A Wave of Attacks… An Urgent Threat to Abortion Rights

A wave of extremely dangerous, utterly heartless, and profoundly anti-woman legislation swept through state legislatures this spring and early summer. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 512 laws limiting abortion were proposed in 49 states in the first three months of 2011. The New York Times reported that, by late May, 64 anti-abortion laws had been passed, 30 in April alone, in what the Times called “a campaign [that is] the largest in history.”

With the ascendancy of the Republican Party and its “Tea Party” component in many state legislatures, and with the Democrats either assisting outright or offering objections that in no essential way challenge the onslaught, these laws are a poisonous brew concocted from a combination of modern technology and the patriarchal, oppressive ideology that is a cornerstone of Christian Fascism.

At the same time as these new laws were being proposed, passed, and signed in various states, federal anti-abortion laws aimed, as Lina Thorne wrote on the World Can’t Wait website, at “further restricting women’s access to abortion, and cutting funds for birth control, cancer screenings and other basic care for women” have been put before Congress.

Federal funding of Planned Parenthood, which provides vital health services to women across the country, has come under sustained attack in the U.S. Congress, and several states, such as Indiana, have passed laws that “prohibit state agencies from entering into contracts with organizations like Planned Parenthood…that provide abortions.” These proposed federal and state laws would, among other harmful measures, prevent women on Medicaid—overwhelmingly poor women without access to health insurance—from receiving abortions.

Using Technology Against Women and Science

Developments in medical technology—in particular ultrasound technology—coupled with ignorance of (and opposition to) science, have helped propel the anti-abortion, anti-woman assault. As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, “In the last few years, the widespread use of ultrasound to view a fetus in the womb has inspired legislation in many states.” John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, said recently, “When Roe vs. Wade was decided, we didn’t have such a clear window into the womb. That’s been absolutely crucial.”

Ultrasound is an imaging technique that is a valuable tool in many forms of medical diagnosis. In recent years, ultrasounds have advanced to include three and four dimensions (the fourth dimension being time). Instead of static squiggly images in varying shades of gray, color images that show length, breadth, depth, and movement of the organ being examined are now available at many clinics and hospitals throughout the country. Among other medical uses, ultrasounds are commonly ordered as a non-invasive exam upon pregnant women to aid in determining fetal health, size, sex, etc.

Anti-abortionists have been pushing the mandated use of ultrasounds, and the “explanations” of these images by selected personnel who themselves are opposed to abortion, on women seeking abortions for several years. They often open up phony “clinics” offering discounted ultrasounds, and staffed by antiabortion Christian fanatics, near establishments that provide abortions. They are not doing this out of any concern for women’s health, or for the viability of the fetus, for that matter.

A central issue in the battles around abortion concerns the question of when human life begins.  The Christian Fascists and others behind the attacks on abortion promote the unscientific, wrong, and deeply damaging falsehood that human life begins at conception—when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. In reality, a fetus is a subordinate part of a woman’s body, and it’s only when there’s birth that the potential human life becomes an actual one (see centerfold of this issue of Revolution for a more in-depth exploration of this). These reactionary woman haters who are pushing the mandated use of ultrasounds are using modern technology combined with theocratic, patriarchal, anti-scientific ideology to try to compel women at what they perceive as a vulnerable moment in the women’s lives to make a decision based on emotion and ignorance, not rational thought and science.

In particular, they seek to force a pregnant woman to view ultrasound images of the fetus, listen to fetal heartbeats, and get an “explanation” of what they are experiencing from a committed antiabortionist  to try to coerce her to make the profoundly wrong and harmful decision that she would be “killing her baby,” rather than the rational, true, and scientific decision that she is undergoing a routine and safe medical procedure in which a fetus is being aborted. As of June 1, 2011, 19 states require the use of ultrasounds in some form on women who want an abortion, and nine others “require verbal counseling or written materials to include information on accessing ultrasound services.”

A Full Court Press Against Abortion Rights

Other restrictions and requirements intended to limit and eventually (as in soon) eliminate the right to abortion also have become law in many states over the past several months. All of these laws have many features in common, with some particular twists.

In Florida, an amendment to the state constitution was passed that prevents public funding of abortions, as was a bill preventing health insurance exchanges created by federal health reform from paying for abortions. Florida also put further “parental notification” requirements on young women seeking abortions, and requires all women to pay for their own state-mandated ultrasound.

South Dakota, a large, sparsely populated, and largely rural state with only one abortion provider, passed a law requiring women to wait three days between their first mandated “counseling session” and the abortion, forcing doctors to tell women seeking abortions of “any possible risk factor published in medical and psychological journals since 1972.” Women in South Dakota also must first visit a “crisis pregnancy center”—which in the real world of South Dakota today usually means a place run by Christian Fascist lunatics, and which, in the words of ACLU lawyer Sondra Goldschein, are “entities that are notorious for providing false and misleading information.”

Indiana legislators voted to ban abortion altogether “after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in danger.” The Indiana law also requires that women seeking abortions “be told in writing that they face a greater risk of infertility and breast cancer,” and that “human life begins at conception.”  All this is utterly, maliciously false. As a study from the journal Annals of Internal Medicine pointed out, “both the World Health Organization and the National Cancer Institute have concurred that no credible evidence supports a link between abortion and breast cancer.”

One of the most far reaching, and ominous, of the new laws is making its way through the Ohio legislature. As reported in Reuters, the Ohio House of Representatives voted in late June to “ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which can be as early as six weeks. If enacted, the law would be a challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which upheld a woman’s right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at 22-24 weeks. Republican Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder said he knows this bill will face a court challenge. ‘We’re writing bills for courts,’ he said.”

A leading member of Iowa Right to Life said of the new laws in Iowa and throughout the country, “We want to see a day when abortion is ended and, you know, this is a pretty good start in that direction.”

In Kansas—the state where abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered by a Christian Fascist two years ago—some of the most extreme anti-abortion laws were passed this spring. These laws required yearly licensing by the state, and imposed conditions nearly impossible to meet for ordinary clinics. Two of the three sites in the state of Kansas that provide abortions were forced to close after this law was signed by Kansas governor Sam Brownback.

Many of these laws in different states were immediately faced with lawsuits. In Kansas, a judge recently issued an injunction against the law and the three clinics in the state remain open as of this writing. The Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a suit to delay the implementation of the new Texas law, and several doctors have also spoken out against it.

Opposing these attacks in the courts is an important part of the struggle, but it must be recognized that the forces pushing for an end to the right to abortion are relentless, and are determined to continue their drive to eliminate abortion completely in this country. Confining opposition to the legal arena, and opposing these attacks piecemeal, is a recipe for disaster. Nothing less than a broad movement of militant opposition, and an outlook that rejects the entire framework in which this vital question is being presented, is needed. A culture that cherishes and defends the lives and rights of women against this literally murderous and highly repressive onslaught must be built.

Developments in Nebraska over the past couple of years provide a painful illustration of how deadly passivity and confining opposition to the attacks on abortion to lawsuits and the legislative process truly is. In 2010, Nebraska passed a law which outlawed abortion after 20 weeks. This law became a sort of model for anti-abortionists in other states, and this year 12 states have passed or are “considering” a similar law. In defending the lack of opposition to the Nebraska law, a national spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights said that “We’re not going to file a legal challenge just because our opponents try to bait us to do so,” and that her organization is looking for the “right circumstances” to challenge the vicious law. Meanwhile, the lives of countless women are at stake.

Urgently Needed: Determined Defense of Abortion Rights

This coordinated assault on the state and federal levels serves as a legal counterpart to the deadly terror directed at abortion providers, such as the murder of Dr. George Tiller in a Wichita, Kansas church in May 2009. It is ultimately aimed at completely preventing access to abortion, and even knowledge about the medical procedures and legal rights available to women.

One of the most insidious aspects of these assaults upon the right to abortion is that many of its proponents present these laws as “empowering women” and enabling them to make “informed decisions,” based on the most modern medical technology.

Dan Patrick, a Texas state senator and leading figure among Christian Fascists and in the Republican Party, wrote in the Houston Chronicle that “This bill is about a woman’s right to know. Offering women comprehensive information and time to make such an important, life-altering decision is not interference; it is empowerment.” When Texas governor Rick Perry, also a Christian Fascist and a possible Republican presidential candidate, signed the Texas law, Patrick changed his tune, saying “The good news is through the blood of Jesus Christ he forgives, and women who have aborted children need to know that message. … I believe this can be the beginning of the end of 75,000 abortions we have every year in Texas.”

The laws being proposed and, most often, passed and signed serve a theocratic (rule of society by religious law) doctrine that wants to take society, and most particularly, women, back. Back to a situation in which women are openly the property of men—whether their fathers or their husbands. They would combine and enforce this suffocating and horribly oppressive goal with a government that intrudes into the most private and personal spaces of a woman’s life, and prevent her from making the most basic decisions about the direction of her own life, and control over her own body.

In the context of the ’60s, when U.S. society was in turmoil and oppression in many forms was challenged (but not overthrown with a revolution), one important concession to the people’s struggle was legalizing abortion. Today, even as the role of women is going through big changes in the workplace and in society, the oppression of women remains a cornerstone of capitalism and the structures and culture that flow from and serve capitalist exploitation and oppression. And this is concentrated in whether women have the right to decide if and when to bear children, or—as powerful forces in U.S. society demand—women are driven back to being enslaved as baby producers.

These attacks must be met with urgent, determined political opposition. Even more basically, the entire framework in which the question of abortion is currently debated needs to be transformed, qualitatively. Fundamental understandings of morality and science are clashing here.

As Sunsara Taylor wrote in these pages, “The life of a woman who is forced to continue an unwanted pregnancy is endangered. From the dangers of illegal abortions to the disrespect for her own life, she is harmed and demeaned as a human being. Being forced by society to have a baby when a woman either does not want or cannot care for one is one of the age-old tragedies that are no longer necessary for anyone to have to suffer.

“But if a woman is not allowed to control her own body, her own reproduction, not allowed to decide whether or not or when to become a mother, she has no more freedom than a slave. This is for the greater good for the health and overall well-being of that woman, whose life we should value and cherish more than that of a partially formed fetus. And for the greater good of humanity—for don’t we want a society where all forms of slavery are ended? The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each other’s humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by ‘God’ to ‘submit themselves’ to men.”


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