My body my choice: the attack on the right to abortion and the struggle to defend it

In the framework of the 29th Antinazi Zone-YRE summer camp, on Sunday 31 July, Xekinima organised a discussion with the title “My body my choice: On the occasion of the decision of the US Supreme Court, we discuss women’s right to decide for their own bodies and lives”.  

The discussion focused on the extraordinary setback in women’s abortion rights in the US, how we got to this point and the role of Democrats and Republicans over the last few years. Another topic that dominated the discussion was related to the developments in Greece, where the right to abortion has been often challenged in recent years by conservative circles of the right and the church.  

The discussion was lively, many people of all ages and from different countries attended and took the floor. 

The following text is based on Eleni Mitsou’s lead-off. 

In 1973, the US Supreme Court considered the case of Roe v. Wade (these were the names of the opposing parties). The decision handed down by the court at the time protected the right to abortion throughout the United States. In other words, no state had the right to pass a law banning abortion, because there was a specific ruling by the supreme constitutional court. 

In June this year, the Supreme Constitutional Court, after new members had been appointed, overturned the 1973 decision, giving any state in the United States the right to ban abortion. To keep this part short, we will not go through the legal details. 

This decision shocked and outraged millions of women in the US and the feminist movement internationally. But it did not come out of the blue.  

The right and far right in the US had been passing laws banning or restricting abortion for years in several states where they controlled the local governments. These laws were not able to be enacted, as long as the right to abortion was protected at the federal level by the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. They did pass them though just in case, while at the same time they repeatedly proceeded to appeal Roe at the federal supreme court, hoping that in case the ruling was overturned, state laws would be activated. As a matter of fact, many of them were worded in such a way that they could take effect the day after Roe vs. Wade was overturned. 

These appeals had not been successful until the composition of the federal court changed. 

The members of the court are appointed by the President of the United States (subject to the Senate’s confirmation of the decision) and are for life. That is, once they are appointed there is no way to replace them until they die (which shows a lot about the quality of democracy in the US). 

Three members of the supreme court died during Trump’s presidency (one of them slightly earlier actually) and Trump was able to nominate 3 very conservative justices in their place.  

With the new lineup, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade among others.

In a very short period of time the US Supreme Court has taken a series of decisions, which are in line with the conservative establishment agenda in the US, as well as Trump’s Republican agenda, even though the Republicans are not in office.  

Many of these decisions qualified as unconstitutional laws such as:

  • laws restricting and regulating gun ownership in New York.
  • laws that prohibit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from imposing CO2 and other greenhouse gas restrictions on existing industries. 
  • laws regarding separation of church and state (roughly: allowing prayer in schools and state funding of private Christian schools in states where this was not allowed before), etc. 

At the same time, the right and far right have been campaigning, passing laws and prosecuting teachers in schools for talking about racism and inequalities between African Americans and white Americans, explaining how these are connected to the US history etc.  

***

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion is actually banned in 20 out of 50 US states. In 15 of them, abortion is banned at all stages of pregnancy and in 5 of them after 5 or 6 weeks. That is too short anyway, as too many women haven’t even realized they’re pregnant at such an early stage. This actually amounts to a total ban. In many of those states, abortion is not allowed even if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or in case of serious threat to the woman’s health.  

Millions of women in the US are left without access to abortion, without the right to choose. This primarily concerns poor and middle-class women who do not have enough money to travel to a neighboring state and have a legal and safe abortion. 

This ban also deteriorates the lives of poor and middle class women who are in a violent, abusive relationship. Women who cannot escape an abusive partner to have an abortion, while they would be able to if abortions were accessible in their town, are now trapped even more. 

***

The President of the United States, as well as all the Democratic Party officials, said they were shocked and outraged by the federal court’s decision. Yet, for 50 years they have not taken even elementary action to defend the right to abortion. 

First and foremost, they could have prepared and passed a federal law, in order to guarantee that Roe vs. Wade wouldn’t have been overturned.  

They tried to do so, only when the draft decision of the Supreme Court was leaked, a few months before, together with the information that the ruling was expected at the beginning of 2022. 

In a hypocritical attempt to show that they were attempting to prevent such a development, they twice filed a bill legalising abortion with the Senate (once in February and once in May 2022). However, the law did not pass. The Democrats have a completely marginal majority in the Senate now – unlike in their previous administrations. But the law was not even voted on by all Democrats…  

They could also have run an abortion awareness campaign, rather than leaving the field to the US Christian fundamentalists who misinform people with their conspiracy theories. 

The so-called “pro-life”, anti-abortion movement in the US is generously funded and uses many methods to fight against abortion:

  • They build clinics where ultrasounds for pregnant women are for free. As there is no free medicare in the US, too many women will have no choice but to turn to them. If the staff at these clinics find out that a pregnant woman is planning to have an abortion, targeted “counselling” is put in place to prevent it: emotional blackmail and misinformation (they tell her for instance that the 2-month-old foetus, once found outside the womb, will cry heartbreakingly until it dies) are both applied at this “counselling”. 
  • They also organise mobilisations outside abortion clinics to prevent pregnant women and doctors from accessing them and to rally their people.
  • They spread unimaginable conspiracy theories.

“In places like Washington, D.C., embryos are burned to produce electricity for lighting of the city and homes”, “next time you turn on the light, think of incinerators.” This was not said by some quaint figure in a village in the Appalachian Mountains. It was said in Congress by Catherine Glenn Foster, a lawyer and president of “Americans United for Life”, the largest “pro-life” NGO. She gets a salary of 190,000 a year, and was invited by the Republicans as an expert in the Congressional debate on abortion last May. 

Some of the laws the right wingers passed were very “insightful”; in Texas, for example:   

  • mailing of abortion pills (medication abortion) has been banned, so that women are not able to obtain them online from states where abortion is still allowed.
  • also in Texas, any citizen is allowed by law to sue anyone, a citizen, a doctor or a clinic helping a pregnant woman get an abortion in and out of Texas! 

The next declared objective of the misogynistic abortion opponents is to pass laws prohibiting women from travelling in order to get an abortion. In this way, a woman’s right to move freely is also restricted… These are chilling developments reminiscent of dystopian societies, like the ones we see in movies…. 

These people are of course only “interested” in “protecting the unborn children”. They are not demanding paid maternity leave, which does not exist in the US, nor benefits and assistance for all women and all people who want to have children but are struggling financially. 

On the other hand, the Democratic Party has done nothing to defend the right to abortion in a meaningful way. It has and continues to use the right to abortion as a voting tool. It calls on people to vote for Democratic candidates to protect abortion rights, but in the end, they practically take no action in that direction. 

The day after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the Democratic Party sent mass text messages asking people for financial support for their campaign and stressing the importance of people voting for them to protect abortion rights. This move outraged, and rightly so, even very loyal Democratic voters. 

*** 

What could the Biden administration do with the current state of affairs?

The could pass a law through Congress that would guarantee the right to abortion at the federal level, even though that law would be temporary, in the sense that the federal supreme court might strike it down as unconstitutional. But it would provide an immediate solution and relief to hundreds of thousands of women. 

They could issue a decree whereby abortions could be performed in all states, including those states where abortion is prohibited, on land owned by the federal government. 

It is clear that some practical solutions can be found even at this late hour. 

But there are no such news coming from the Biden administration so far. A recent decree he signed on this issue a few weeks ago, which was much advertised, is in fact empty of content. It does not change anything.  

*** 

There are a lot to learn from the developments in the US.  

First of all, we cannot have any confidence in the justice system under capitalism.  

It is quite straighforward for a lot of people to acknowledge that justice in capitalism is riddled with corruption. Powerful and rich people accused of harassment or rape are easily dismissed or get very light penalties, whereas activists often falsely or unfairly accused, end up in jail with very heavy sentences, as a revenge or in order for people to be terrorised. 

Justice is built and staffed in a way that supports the system, capitalism, its protegés and its “values”. In this context it supports patriarchy. Because patriarchy is one of the main pillars of the system.  

“Fatherland – Religion – Family” are the core values promoted by the system and its most aggressive representatives. By family, the system only intends the heterosexual one: a father, a mother and children in a family where each member has specific roles and carries specific stereotypes. 

A system in which patriarchy is a core value will always try to take back women’s rights, in the same way that it tries to take back every right gained by the workers. Capitalism cannot exist without exploitation, the brutal exploitation of workers. We witness it nowadays, when the working class movement is in retreat and we are losing rights such as the 8-hour working day, the right to be paid for overtime, the right to assemble and protest, freedom of the press, etc. These are things that the workers’ movement won 100 years ago and are now being taken back.  

As long as capitalism exists no rights and no freedoms are guaranteed. 

The right to abortion that the system is fighting to cancel altogether in the US is an extremely important right. It’s about the right of a woman to control what happens to her body, her way of living and her life planning on a personal level, if she wants to have children, when and how many.   

When the right to control our bodies is taken away, the right to choose is taken away. And this is not just in theory. 

The feminist movement and the Left have been fighting for over a century in order for women to be able to study, work, receive equal pay for equal work with men, get the same political rights as men, and to break free from the traditional stereotype according to which a woman can only be a wife and a mother. 

When they take back the right to abortion, they take away the choice that we have fought for over 100 years and impose on women, at least for a period of their life, the role that the system has traditionally reserved for them: the role of mother and housewife. 

They treat women as a reproductive machine: having children is the most important thing a woman has to do, and if she doesn’t understand it on her own, if she doesn’t make the choice the system wants her to make, the system can force her by the rule of law! 

Laws that remove the right to abortion bring the fight for gender equality many decades back. Apart from the above, we need to note that there is no similar law forcing men to take on a specific role and responsibilities in the event of a pregnancy, in the same way that there is no law in general imposing a specific role in men’s lives anyway. And it goes without saying that an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy can define not just a period but a woman’s whole life, depending on her age and her social background. 

An unwanted pregnancy can force a woman to quit school or studies, to lose a good job (together with whatever that means for each woman), to never be able to escape poverty but instead being plunged deeper and deeper into it, to not be able to escape an abusive relationship, etc. 

*** 

When abortion rights are shattered in the US, the most powerful capitalist economy in the world, the consequences are not limited within the country’s borders. The right and far-right in Europe and around the globe can use this example and be encouraged to intensify their misogynistic struggle. 

How can we repel this attack? How can we fight to restore and expand the right to abortion in the United States? There are no shortcuts, no magic solutions. We can only win our rights through the struggles of movements. 

It is more necessary than ever for the feminist movement in the US and for all those who defend this absolutely basic right of women to decide whether to have children or not, when and how many, to take to the streets now and fight for the right to abortion by organizing mass demonstrations, occupations, strikes (by sector, by city, ect…) with the aim of forcing the government to take measures like the ones we mentioned above, so that they will not dare to touch any pro-abortion law and measures. The movement for women’s rights and freedom, the feminist movement, has from time to time taken hundreds of thousands and millions into the streets, both in the Americas and in Europe. This is how it won the right to abortion in Ireland, Argentina and a number of other countries. This is how we won all our rights in the last century and even earlier in the past. 

At the same time, the movement should also organise information campaigns all around the US, so that an even larger part of society can learn the truth about abortion, shake off the lies, beliefs and propaganda of the Christian fundamentalists, the right-wing and far-right in the US and eventually join the fight for women’s rights.   

For us, for the revolutionary Left, this struggle must be part of a more generalised struggle to overthrow the system and build a socialist society with real democracy and equality. This is the only way for us to preserve our rights and to avoid having our rights overturned. It’s the only way to prevent half the world’s population from living in poverty and misery, while a handful of rich people live in incredible luxury. It is the only way to stop the destruction of life on earth as we know it. At the end of the day, this is the only way we can all live in dignity, equality and true freedom. 

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