Revolutionary Worker #897, March 9, 1997
We know the situation is urgent. Our outrage grows as the lists get longer. Number of doctors murdered. Number of death threats. Number of clinics bombed and vandalized. Number of blockades. Number of anti-abortion laws. Number of women denied the right to choose.
These numbers are all getting bigger. But at a time when attacks on abortion are escalating and getting more murderous, the pro-choice movement is actually less mobilized.
The majority in this country support the right to choose. Many remember how women suffered and died before Roe v. Wade. Hundreds of thousands have marched to keep abortion legal. Many understand that when women are forced to have children against their will, lives are ruined and dreams are shattered.
There is great potential for masses of people to be mobilized to stop the attacks on women's clinics. But there is fear and confusion preventing people from building a real counteroffensive. So in honor of International Women's Day, I'd like to reiterate some points of orientation I think are necessary in order to build a strong defense of women's clinics.
The struggle around abortion is about women's liberation. And we need to bring this to the forefront of the battle. The more people understand that women's equality is at the heart of the matter, the more determined they will be to go up against the reactionary violence of the anti-abortion forces.
In too many ways the anti-abortion movement has been allowed to set the terms with their lies about "baby killing." The antis don't oppose abortion because they are "pro-life." They oppose abortion because they are for male domination, patriarchal control and oppressive family relations. One male anti-abortion demonstrator, when asked to explain why he was picketing a women's clinic, said: "If women can get abortions, then how can we control them any more?"
Without reproductive rights women cannot equally and fully participate in society. This is why the overall physical and social well-being of women must take priority over any subordinate processes, such as a pregnancy. Women are not incubators! And this is why any reason a woman has for getting an abortion is valid.
The antis promote a totally ignorant and unscientific view of abortion. They say fetuses are children and abortion is murder. But this goes against scientific fact. A fetus has the potential to become a human being. But it is not yet a separate social being that should have separate social rights. And it does not become a baby--a human being with an independent existence--until it is born. Abortion stops the growth of a developing mass of tissue that is integrally connected to and totally dependent on the biological process of a woman's body. This is why fetuses are NOT children and abortion is NOT murder. And this is the scientific basis for why women have no reason to be apologetic about getting an abortion.
In the pro-choice movement, a harmful defensive attitude is sometimes expressed by people emphasizing "other" services provided at women's health clinics, like prenatal care and contraception--as if clinics should be apologetic about providing abortion services, or that they have to "justify" giving abortions by saying they are working to make them "rare." But as Mary Lou Greenberg has said, "Why should abortion be `rare' when the control of reproduction, including through abortion, is absolutely necessary for women to gain equality and liberation?"
There is no reason a woman should feel guilty about getting an abortion. Abortions should be available, accessible and safe to any woman who needs one, for whatever reasons. Women should be proud, not apologetic, when they take control of their lives, defy "traditional" oppressive roles and fight to be independent.
Some say we should rely on the police and courts and demand government protection. But the government isn't going to firmly defend abortion rights. To the extent the government upholds reproductive rights, it's not because it sees this as central to the struggle against women's oppression. For the U.S. ruling class, making and keeping abortion legal has been a politically expedient and pragmatic decision. They are concerned about population control and social control--not women's liberation.
And the cops and courts are not a "neutral force." They are part of the power structure and protect the legal rights of women only insofar as it serves ruling class interests. We've seen police and courts allow blockades. We've seen cops openly side with antis and "work out" tactics. We've seen court injunctions used against those defending clinics. We've seen Supreme Court rulings which allow antis to harass women. How can the people rely on this kind of "protection?"
Historically, agencies like the FBI have spied on, hurt and tried to destroy the people's movements. And bringing in local and federal police only provides opportunity for them to investigate and harass those under attack, try to split the movement by warning people to stay away from "radical" elements, and discourage people from mobilizing mass defense of clinics. Look at how the FBI investigated the burnings of Black churches. They polygraphed Black ministers, fingerprinted church members, and implied that church members burned their own church. The situation was so outrageous a delegation of 30 Black church leaders and lawyers went to Washington to complain about such treatment.
Relying on the government narrows and confines clinic defense and takes the initiative away from those who have the most at stake--doctors, clinic workers and the masses of people who support the right to choose. We need to fight and defeat the anti-abortion forces in a way that builds our movement and makes us stronger, not weaker and more dependent. And calls for more protection from the courts, cops and Feds will only--as such calls have in the past--demobilize people, create a climate of complacency, and promote the dangerous illusion that we can trust the power structure to deal with the situation.
Some people say that confronting the antis only "brings us down to their level." But the antis are not going to be defeated without a real struggle. And calls for "avoiding confrontation" only perpetuate a one-sided battle where the people feel powerless.
Some people feel unprepared to deal with the reactionary violence that has hit the clinics. But people need to make a distinction between unjust violence and defense of the people in a just cause. Mary Lou Greenberg, an activist in the pro-choice movement and spokesperson for the New York Branch of the RCP, has pointed out: "There is a difference between the violence of a rapist, the violence that this system inflicts on women in so many ways, there's a difference between that and the violence of the woman who fights back, who fights back and even kills her attacker. Those are two very different forms of violence. One is reactionary violence in the service of the oppressor. The other is liberatory violence in the service of the oppressed breaking free."
We need to defend the clinics by any means necessary.
Some people say the pro-choice movement should "compromise" and appeal to more "moderate" forces in the anti-abortion movement. But this view only feeds into the media lie that there are two "extremes" in the abortion battle and that both are wrong.
In fact, the two "extreme" sides in this battle are right and wrong. The fight against abortion is about oppressing women. And the fight for abortion rights is about liberating women. The pro-choice movement has justice on its side. And all those who believe in the equality and liberation of women should be uncompromising on the question of a woman's right to choose.
We should reject plans to "work out" how much or little the antis will be allowed to harass women, block clinics, and threaten and murder doctors, clinic workers and patients. This kind of "negotiating" doesn't soften the positions of the anti-choice forces and only ends up putting the pro-choice movement on the defensive.
There are a lot of people, including young high-school-age youth, who have been sucked in by the anti-abortion rhetoric. And we have to fight hard to win people over to a scientific and liberating view of abortion. We do have to re-polarize public opinion on abortion. But we're not going to accomplish this by giving any credence to the misinformation and lies put out by the antis.
If you want others to be strong, you must be strong. And trying to "dialogue" with so-called anti-abortion "moderates" won't help win people over who are honestly confused and mis-informed. The only way to win over such people is to be firm in telling the truth: That abortion is not murder. Fetuses are not babies. And women must have an unconditional right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
To build a strong defense of women's clinics, we need to wage friendly struggle among ourselves in order to change the defensive, apologetic climate that exists in the pro-choice movement.
Experience has shown that only the strength of the masses can keep the clinic doors open. And it will take a mass movement to beat back the vicious attacks on women's clinics. Now is the time to draw the line and stop the antis from coming anywhere near the clinics.
We need to protect the clinics in a way that relies on the initiative of the people. We need a spirited, fighting atmosphere--not a heads down, siege mentality. We need a new sense of people's power and collective strength. And we need to create an atmosphere where women can proudly hold their heads up high and demand: Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!