Drawing the Line in Dayton

The Anti-Abortion Offensive and the Fight for Women's Liberation

Revolutionary Worker #915, July 13, 1997

An important battle in the struggle for women's liberation is shaping up in Dayton. The enemies of women are throwing down the gauntlet with a major reactionary offensive against abortion. And pro-choice activists are calling on people to take this on.

The antis claim they are "winning." And in fact, the situation is urgent. The numbers are all going up: number of doctors murdered, number of death threats, number of clinic bombings, number of anti-abortion laws--number of women denied the right to choose.

The challenge now presents itself in Dayton--an opportunity to set an example, shape public opinion, and deliver a political and practical blow to the anti-abortion movement.

The majority of people in this country think the government shouldn't be allowed to dictate when and if a woman has children. Hundreds of thousands have marched in the street to keep abortion legal. There is a lot of potential for the masses of people to be mobilized to counter Operation Rescue in Dayton. And the more clear people get on the political stakes in this battle, the more they will see the importance of taking on the antis in a strong, all around way.

A Question of Women's Liberation

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 anti-abortion forces. In too many ways the anti-abortion movement has been allowed to set the terms with their lie that the issue here is about "life." But 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.

A woman's right to choose is central to her emancipation and the emancipation of all women. As Mary Lou Greenberg has said, "Debating whether women should have the right to abortion is like debating whether Black people should have the right not to be slaves."

As long as individual women giving birth to babies is the way that human beings reproduce, social controls on reproduction can be an oppressive thing for women. Because of this, the overall physical and social well-being of women must take priority over fetuses. This is a question of women's health. But even more, it is a question of women's right to function fully in society.

From the time human societies became divided along property lines and male dominance was imposed over the family and society, the right to make decisions about reproduction has been taken away from women. And women have resisted this oppression. Today this problem is connected by a thousand threads to all the other oppressive situations confronting women--and to other forms of oppression brought down on the people in this capitalistic, male-dominated and white supremacist society.

It is connected to the insults, threats, abuse, rape, degradation and brutality at the hands of men. When boyfriends and husbands demand that women have children because "it's my baby" they are perpetrating oppression--because a woman who is forced to bear a child against her will is assaulted and degraded in body and spirit. These men are treating women like their property, not like equal human beings.

Treating women like incubators or acting like women have a "duty" to have children because a fetus is a potential human being is connected to the way women are treated as property--as commodities to be bought and sold and used to sell other commodities. It is part of the same oppressive setup where the sexual plunder of women through pornography and prostitution are practiced. It is connected to the whole male supremacist domination and oppression of women that is not only an everyday fact of life--but a foundation of this capitalist system.

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. This is why any reason a woman has for getting an abortion is valid.

Abortion Is NOT Murder

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, some people act defensive and apologetic when they talk about abortion. But 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.

The religious-based "traditional morality"--where superstition and unscientific beliefs preach to women that because they have the capacity to bear children it is some kind of "duty to god" or "natural role"--is linked up to all the ways that male domination is being reinforced on poor women and teenagers.

Women should be proud, not apologetic, when they take control of their lives, defy "traditional" oppressive roles and fight to be independent.

Only the People Can
Stop the Antis

In the face of a major offensive by the antis, some people want to back off instead of waging a strong counteroffensive. They say they don't want the situation to "get out of hand" and argue that confronting the antis only "brings us down to their level." But the anti-abortion movement is not going to be defeated without a real struggle. And calls for "avoiding confrontation at all costs" only perpetuate a one-sided battle where the people feel powerless and the antis have an open field.

Some say when the antis come into town we should rely on the police and courts for protection. But the government isn't going to be firm in defending the right to abortion. The government doesn't see reproductive rights as central to fighting the oppression of women. 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" that can be relied on to defend the clinics. 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"?

Relying on the cops and courts narrows and confines our ability to effectively counter the antis 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. Calls to rely on 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.

Urgently Needed:
A Strong Counteroffensive

The media tries to portray it like 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.

Some people say that mobilizing a strong counteroffensive against the antis only gives them more attention. Some people say Operation Rescue won't mobilize that many people and that the best way to deal with them is just to ignore them. But pretending the anti-abortion movement is ineffective is wishful thinking! Way too many times, the anti-abortion movement has been able to set the terms of the struggle around abortion. And in too many ways, the antis have been able to create public opinion, influence people and win people to their side. The only way to prevent the antis from spreading their poisonous influence is by countering them in many different ways--in the media, through educational forums, with counter-demonstrations and at the clinic doors.

Some people say we shouldn't mobilize mass defense at the clinics because it will "mess up" the relationship providers have established with the police. But we should not be "working 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.

Operation Rescue's campaign in Dayton is making a special effort to recruit and train youth. And the pro-choice movement needs to pay particular attention to countering the confusion being spread, especially among youth, who are being sucked in by the anti-abortion rhetoric. We have to fight hard to win people over to a scientific and liberating view of abortion. And 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. The only way to win people over who are honestly confused and mis-informed 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.

Experience has shown that only the strength of the masses can beat back the ugly offensives by the anti-abortion movement. Now is the time to draw the line and stop the antis from invading cities and spreading their poisonous lies and threatening clinics, doctors and all those defending the right to choose.

Mary Lou Greenberg has said, "A woman who can control her own reproduction and decide whether and when to have children will be stronger, more independent and better able to deal with the world at large, outside the confines of the family. She will be better able to lift her head, better able to dream and visualize the way the world COULD BE. And she will be better able to act to realize these dreams. Stronger women make stronger fighters--for themselves, for their children, for all the women, men and children everywhere who have known conditions of oppression."

This is the future on the line every time a woman confronts a howling mob at the clinic doors and a doctor or health worker faces death for daring to let a woman choose. This is the future the people must defend in Dayton.

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