Democrats suck at protecting our reproductive rights

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protest sign that reads "Abortion is a MORALLY NEUTRAL act" (shrug emoji)

Since the appointment of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade is once again hanging on by a thread, but many, many people who can get pregnant already live in a post-Roe world. In the past week, Alabama lawmakers voted to effectively ban abortion in the state, except at “great risk” to the mother’s life, and Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that would make performing an abortion illegal once a heartbeat is detected, which is often before people even know they’re pregnant. Ohio, Mississippi, and Kentucky have all passed similar bills “heartbeat” bills this year, and in Indiana, Gov Eric Holcomb signed a piece of legislation that nearly bans the most common and safe procedure for second trimester abortions. Twenty-five abortion restrictions have been enacted across the U.S. this year so far, and lawmakers in 28 state legislatures have introduced bills that seek to add even more restrictions. These are just a part of the ramped-up, grassroots efforts by conservative, anti-abortion activists to make the medical procedure inaccessible, illegal, and in the most extreme cases, like Texas House Bill 896, a potential capital murder charge.

Yet, since the 1980’s mainstream pro-choice groups have pursued a conscious strategy of moving activism out of the streets, away from grassroots organizing and into electoral campaigns, funneling more money to lobbyists and sending a message that we have to rely on the Democrats to protect our rights. That is, quite frankly, a losing strategy, and has resulted in the most legislative restrictions on abortion since the early 80’s. Here’s just a little taste of the Democrats’ track record on abortion rights:

  • In 1976, the Hyde Amendment– which blocks Medicaid funding for abortions, making them much less accessible for poor people– passed with the support of Democratic president Jimmy Carter. This amendment has been reaffirmed EVERY SINGLE YEAR SINCE, regardless of which party was in power.
  • Bill Clinton, who campaigned on repealing Hyde, instead signed off on it every year he was in office. More abortion restrictions were passed in his first term than in both the terms of Reagan and George H.W. Bush. AND he promoted abstinence as a primary technique to lower abortion rates in his second term.
  • Hillary Clinton forged alliances with anti-choice politicians on the ground of rejecting the “extremism” of abortion rights activists.
  • Obama offered to sacrifice abortion rights in order to win over pro-life Democrats to the Affordable Care Act by pledging to uphold the federal ban on abortion funding.

Clearly, we cannot leave the future of access to reproductive health in the hands of mainstream feminist organizations or the Democratic party. The defensive strategy they have taken on abortion over the past 40 years—compromising with anti-choice politicians and moving the fight for abortion rights away from bodily autonomy and towards the “right to privacy”— has led not only to more restrictions on abortion, but allowed for the all out attack on Planned Parenthood and other clinics and all of the services they provide, including contraception. So what can we do?

Roe v Wade was won by the women’s liberation movement, a movement directly inspired by the civil rights movement and the poor people’s movement. For the women’s liberation movement, legalized abortion was part of a larger platform of equality and bodily autonomy, and the movement wanted a repeal of restrictive laws, not reform. Their demands were based on their lives, not the “expert” opinions of policy makers.

As socialists who are interested in building power from the ground up, we should take the best parts of that movement and reclaim our clinics, our bodies and our lives. Our demands should be radical— not just “safe, legal and rare” abortions (the pro-choice slogan the Democrats popularized under Bill Clinton), but free abortion on demand without apology for all who want it. Reproductive justice should include free childcare, excellent free public education, and free quality healthcare for all. We must pressure not just our legislators, but also the mainstream feminist organizations, not to concede and cater to the so-called middle ground. We must meet the opposition where it’s at, whether that’s in the halls of power or in the streets in front of our clinics. We’re not here to help Roe vs Wade hold on by a thread, we’re here to build a broad, unapologetic and inclusive movement that seeks to abolish the shame and stigma around abortion and support reproductive justice for all.

The next Twin Cities Clinic Defense meeting is May 26th from 12-2 pm at the Minneapolis Central Library, Room N-402. Twin Cities Clinic Defense is a coalition of activists from Twin Cities DSA, the former ISO, the IWW and others that was formed in October 2018 in the wake of the Kavanaugh appointment. We believe in using a variety of tactics in the fight for reproductive justice and in getting people engaged with the issue on the ground in their own communities. At this meeting, we’ll discuss how to continue the fight for reproductive justice, including a campaign against crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), an intergenerational abortion speakout, and a zine/pamphlet about the history/return of illegal abortion. Join us and help build an active, unapologetic and inclusive reproductive justice movement!

Mandy M.

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