Revolution #86, April 29, 2007
Christian Fascists Gain Ground
Supreme Court Decision: Huge Attack on Women
Last week the Supreme Court decided by a 5-4 margin to uphold the federal “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.” This is an extremely oppressive and unjust decision, which will certainly—and needlessly—cause the deaths of some women and the imprisonment of doctors who attempt to aid them. Moreover, the legal arguments used to justify the decision mark a huge escalation in the war against women and toward turning the United States into a theocracy, ruled by Christian Fascists.
The decision upholds a federal ban on an abortion procedure known as “intact dilation and extraction.” As explained in the accompanying box “The Facts of the Matter,” this rare procedure is generally done when something goes very wrong with the pregnancy, or when a doctor decides this is the safest method of abortion for a woman with health risks. For the 2,200 women a year who need it, the availability of this procedure could be literally a life-saver.
Taking this crucial option away is very bad in its own right. But the Supreme Court decision went further and, in deciding the case, changed how the law is understood in an ominous way.
The Deadly—and Patriarchal—Logic of the Court’s Decision
Previous Court decisions have emphasized the woman’s right to make decisions concerning her own life and health. Now the Court has put much more emphasis on protecting the life of the fetus. It took out provisions for the woman’s health and provided exceptions only in very extreme cases, to save the pregnant woman’s life. (And decisions about this will, of course, be contested by anti-abortionist district attorneys.)
But while the Court seriously eroded the protection of a woman’s health, the very same ruling implied that abortion causes women emotional harm. While conceding that there is no “reliable data” on this, Justice Kennedy, in writing for the majority, immediately went on to say that it was nonetheless “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who choose to terminate a pregnancy suffer “regret, severe depression and loss of self-esteem.” Consequently, he said, the government has a legitimate interest in banning this procedure to prevent women from casually or ill-advisedly making “ so grave a choice.” In other words, the state now has the right to prevent women doing what the state thinks might be emotionally harmful to them! Going further, Justice Kennedy wrote that if the regulation “encourages some women to carry the infant to full term,” this will advance “the state’s interest in respect for life.”
First off, this law will not “encourage” women to do anything—it will force them, under penalty of law, to bear children that they do not want. Second, Kennedy blatantly puts aside real evidence proving that this is a vital procedure to protect a women’s health for the fictitious and cruel pseudo-science that claims a woman who has an abortion might—and, in Kennedy’s thinking, should—“come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”
And where did the majority of the highest court in the land get this “evidence"? From a relative handful of affidavits filed by the Justice Foundation—a right-wing Christian group. This group runs a 24 hour “help” line to counsel women that any emotional problems they have come from suppressed feelings from having committed the “sin of abortion” earlier in their lives. This outfit is backed and funded by several Christian Fascist organizations, including Focus on the Family, which openly trumpet the subordination of women to men, and which bombard women with guilt and shame for the “sin” of wanting to control their own destiny.
The radical leap involved in this decision and, even more so, in the logic used to justify it, was reflected in the sharpness of dissent on the Court itself. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described the hostility to women’s right to abortion on the Court as “not concealed” and “alarming.” She pointed out that in the logic of this decision, Congress could pass a law equating abortions with “infanticide” (the killing of a child) and the Court could rule in its favor.
The patriarchal underpinnings of the decision’s logic are further revealed when Kennedy, writing for the majority, states that, “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond the mother has for her child.” [our emphasis] Leaving aside for here the fact that a fetus is NOT a child, we must understand how radical and open a departure this is. Again, even the dissenting opinion by Ginsburg argues that before now the Court “recognized the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. The…Court described the centrality of the decision whether to bear a child to a woman’s dignity and autonomy, her personhood and destiny, her conception of her place in society.” Now, Ginsburg writes, the Court adopts a “way of thinking [that] reflects ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution - ideas that have long since been discredited.”
In fact, the previous decisions of the Court, including ones that Ginsburg bases herself on, did NOT—and could not—fully uphold the centrality of a “woman’s dignity and autonomy.” But this new decision marks a leap to something much worse, a decision to deal with the contradictions posed by the oppressed position of women under capitalism in a qualitatively more repressive way.
The Centrality of Abortion Rights to Women’s Emancipation
Generations of women rejected the “ancient and discredited views" now being consecrated into law by the Supreme Court majority as they moved into the workforce and became educated. With the advent of safe and available birth control, and then with the legalization of abortion, there was a further huge transformation in women’s ability to participate in all spheres of society. The movements for women’s emancipation both reflected and pushed further this whole phenomenon.
As a result, millions and millions of people embrace and hold near to their hearts a view that women are fully capable of making their own decisions, independent of the authority of father or husband or church. And that includes the right of every woman to control her own reproduction! This right is essential to any woman being able to plan her own future and to take charge of her life. A woman who can not control this is little better than a domestic slave.
No woman should ever have to feel the sting of guilt or shame for deciding when and if she will have a child. The ability to decide this is crucial to being able to be in the world as a person of stature and abilities that are equal to men—capable of contributing to any and every aspect of society. Traditions and values that thwart the ability of women to dream and strive for that kind of equality so that they can make the fullest contribution to the advancement of human kind are just plain criminal. There is absolutely no reason why women or men should have to live in the 21st century with 13th-century traditional morality.
But this new decision—Gonzales vs Carhart—enables the state to step in and dictate to a woman how she should address the very personal decisions over, for instance, whether to abort a severely deformed fetus. The decision’s logic says, in effect, that the state knows better than you do about your own mental health. And it essentially adopts the outlook that a woman SHOULD feel guilt and anguish for choosing to terminate a pregnancy in the last two trimesters and SHOULD, in fact, see motherhood as her “true place” and “ultimate expression.”
A Leap Toward Christian Fascist Theocracy
None of this, of course, was lost on the Christian Fascist movement. They were jubilant—and determined to push still further. Christian Coalition president Roberta Combs called it "just a matter of time" before the Supreme Court also strikes down Roe v. Wade. The president of Operation Rescue—a group of fanatics who verbally and sometimes physically intimidate and assault women going into clinics—said that "If partial-birth abortions are unconstitutional, then all abortion should be as well. There is little difference between a second-trimester partial-birth abortion [sic] and a 12-week suction abortion."
These people and forces are not about compromise, common ground or being reasonable. They are about going all the way—to a world without legal abortion and even without birth control, a world where women are once again totally under the dominion of men.
* * * *
"The sacrifices which the man makes in the struggle of this nation, the woman makes in the preservation of that nation in individual cases. What the man gives in courage on the battlefield, the woman gives in eternal self-sacrifice, in eternal pain and suffering. Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people…our…movement has in reality but one single point, and that point is the child, that tiny creature which must be born and grow strong and which alone gives meaning to the whole life-struggle.”
To anyone who’s looked at all into the “Christian Right,” that rhetoric sounds very familiar.
It was said, in fact, by Adolf Hitler.
The rise of fascism and reactionary reversals in history have often first been marked by campaigns to drive women back into domestic servitude. Germany under the Weimar Republic legalized abortion by 1927, but among the first acts of the Nazi Regime was to make abortion illegal. By 1943 abortion in the Third Reich was punishable by death.
This is not a future to wish on anyone and it is up to us to change this ugly course.
For all those who thought “they would never outlaw abortion,” let this be the final, sobering wake-up call. Let it be said that this Supreme Court decision was the last straw, the one that gave rise to a powerful resistance.
And for all those who dream of a better world, let the moment go even deeper. As Bob Avakian has written, “The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all‑the‑way revolution.” Let’s train our sights on what it will take to get full liberation for women and get beyond a society where such backwardness not only thrives but is enshrined in law. Break the chains! Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!
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