Revolution #69, November 19, 2006
Post Election 2006
Women’s Lives Still On the Line
On November 7, in South Dakota, Referred Law 6—the most restrictive and cruel abortion ban in the country—was defeated. This was a defeat for those who would enslave women to the dictates of fundamentalist religious dogma. Passed by the South Dakota legislature last March and signed into law by the governor, the law displayed utter contempt for woman, banning all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant woman—allowing for abortion only in cases where the woman is about to die.
I was in South Dakota for a week leading up to the elections—and the dedication, energy, and determination to knock down this ban pulsed from campuses and street corners across the state in a contentious political atmosphere that split families and friends. The campaign in support of the law, backed by massive infusions of funds from anti-abortion forces, blasted out blatant lies about the law and abortion with ads, billboards, and yard signs. Appeals to “God” and Jesus, with threats of eternal damnation for those who opposed the ban, filled letters to local newspapers. The atmosphere was tense on campuses and in the community generally, with some fearing to display “No on 6” signs and students reporting that they felt vulnerable when they put pro-choice buttons on their backpacks.
When pro-choice people overcame their initial fears and spoke out, they found they were not alone, and others came forward to volunteer and contribute in different ways to the campaign to defeat the ban. In the days leading up to Nov. 7, there were probably hundreds of volunteers across the state who swung into gear to canvass, phone bank and get out the “No on Referred Law 6” vote. Most were from South Dakota, but others came from Washington DC and NYC, the Midwest and even the West Coast to be part of the effort. National organizations, including the National Abortion Federation, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Feminist Majority, and World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime, organized volunteers to go to Sioux Falls.
While this abortion ban was defeated, the equally reactionary Amendment C, which targets both gay and straight couples who are not officially married, passed. This state constitutional amendment prohibits gay marriage and civil unions, domestic partnerships, and the recognition of what it calls “quasi-marital relationships.” In addition, Republican State Senator Bill Napoli, who supported the ban and commented last spring that abortion should never be an option in the case of “simple rape,” was re-elected. This disgusting comment infuriated women who poured out their hearts in letters to the newspaper, about how rape is never “simple.” Rape is rape and heterosexual rape is always a means to exercise patriarchal power over women by assaulting them in the most brutal and degrading way.
There is also discussion now about how the SD state legislature will continue its assault on the right to abortion—passing the same or a very similar law in the next legislative session or passing a ban with exceptions for rape, incest, and the woman’s health (as Napoli now favors). As it is, South Dakota is one of the states with the most restrictions in the country, including a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling to discourage abortion, and parental notification for minors. There is only one clinic in the state, Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood, that offers abortions, and they do so only one day a week with a doctor who flies in from Minneapolis.
And it’s not just in South Dakota where the whole right to abortion is seriously under attack. The day after the elections the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases challenging the federal abortion ban that was passed in 2003 that would outlaw the most common and safest procedures for abortion as early as 13 weeks of pregnancy. Since the Court heard a similar case in 2000 about an almost-identical law and ruled it unconstitutional, its composition has changed—with the addition of two Bush-appointed extreme right-wing, anti-woman judges, John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, who have expressed strong opposition to Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have continually shown just how little they will actually fight to defend a woman’s right to abortion. They offered only token opposition when Bush nominated Roberts, with even some Democratic pro-choice forces using the excuse that they were holding their strongest fire for the next Bush nominee to the Court. But then when Alito—who has said that “the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion”—was named, the Democrats refused to call a filibuster that could have blocked the nomination.
This strategy of the Democratic Party leadership of token squeaks of opposition before total capitulation on this most fundamental and essential right of women to control their own reproduction, was played out over and over in the recent elections—with the Democratic Party leadership openly seeking out anti-choice Democrats and even promoting their candidacies over those who were pro-choice.
The Senate race in Pennsylvania was a prime example where anti-abortion, pro-war and anti-stem cell research incumbent Rick Santorum was defeated by anti-abortion, pro-war and anti-stem cell research candidate Robert Casey Jr. A pro-choice Democrat, Barbara Hafer, was forced out of this race by Democratic Party leaders, and this appalling move was backed by all nine ostensibly pro-choice women Democratic senators in the interests of getting a Democratic majority in the Senate.
I can understand people’s great desire to get rid of Santorum, who is infamous for equating homosexuality with bestiality, and many may have cast their vote more out of hatred for Santorum than support for Casey. But this is the LOSE-LOSE proposition that is presented to people as democracy in this country where they get to “choose” between pre-selected candidates, neither of which represents the people’s interests.
The elections may have changed what ruling class party has a majority in the House and Senate. But it hasn’t and won’t change the ruling class interests of both parties in enforcing male supremacy and patriarchy and, as part of this, denying women the right to abortion.
Democratic Party leader Charles Schumer, who is being congratulated for his winning strategy, has said that defending abortion is a game that the Democrats “can’t afford to play” any longer. The Washington Post recently reported that earlier in the year Schumer conferred with Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and gave the nod to Casey, saying “the days are over when a Democrat has to check 28 boxes to get our support.” In other words, women’s lives are just one more optional issue, and reproductive freedom will be sacrificed to political expediency so the Democrats can enact a program that has basic unity with that of the Republicans.
Marine combat veteran and former secretary of the Navy James Webb, whose close victory in Virginia gave the Senate majority to the Democrats, condemned the investigation of the Navy Tailhook sexual abuse scandal in the 1990s as “a political witch-hunt, driven by a radical-feminist agenda to undermine the masculine culture of the military.” With senators like Casey and Webb, what will women’s lives be worth in this so-called “new” Congress?
The Hillary Clinton position that abortion is a “tragic choice” and should be “rare” has become the official mantra of the Democrats. Not only does this give moral ground to the religious reactionaries who claim that fetuses are the same as born children and that abortion is murder, but the logic of this position would—and will—lead you to accept the South Dakota abortion ban as long as it has exceptions for rape and incest and the health of the woman. You will be forced to accept more and more restrictions, including the federal abortion ban now before the Supreme Court, until all that is left of Roe is a hollow shell, if that.
What we need is an unapologetic, bold and righteously moral defense of women’s right to participate fully in all of society, to be full human beings and not incubators, slaves to their biology and the dictates of church and state. We need to raise the slogan “abortion on demand and without apology.” We need intense discussion and strategizing about how everyone who cares about women and the future of humanity can take the offensive around this critical question. And we need to break out of the confines of politics-as-usual and take independent political action to drive out the Bush regime and its whole theocratic direction.
The Democratic Party leadership has no intention of seriously challenging efforts to enforce patriarchal morality and authority over women—even (and perhaps, especially) with a woman, Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House. We have already seen the Democrats try to “out-family-values” the Republicans in the election campaigns, which can lead nowhere good for women. And Pelosi and the new Senate majority leader, abortion opponent Harry Reid, have already said they plan to lead from “the middle”—a “middle” which is already so far to the right on everything from the war in Iraq, to torture, immigrants, and abortion.
The future for women as projected by Democratic Party leadership offers little hope for positive change. This is a future people fought against in the battle to defeat the abortion ban in South Dakota—from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where overwhelmingly, women said the government had no business interfering in women’s reproductive choices to the streets of Sioux Falls and Rapid City where many women were finding their voices for the first time and speaking out in ways they never had before.
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