Revolution#141, August 24, 2008

Right-wing Attacks on Abortion...and Obama’s Message of Capitulation

It’s really OBSCENE what passes as legitimate political discourse in the current presidential campaign. For example, take the debate between Obama and right-wing conservatives on abortion.

The Christian Defense Coalition and Operation Rescue, two extreme anti-woman, anti-abortion groups, are planning eight days of anti-abortion demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. This promises to be really OBSCENE: Kneeling in prayer (for Obama to “stand for human rights” and “end this tragic war against America’s children”) and laying “1,400 roses for the number of African American children” that supposedly “die from abortion” every day.

These are the foot soldiers of the Christian Right. These are the Christian fascists who barricaded and bombed abortion clinics and murdered abortion doctors in the 1990s—and who have expanded their crusade to campaigns against homosexuality and birth control. This hard-core movement wants a theocracy in the United States. And it has connections to and gets leadership from the highest levels of the Bush administration. Its leaders, like James Dobson and Richard Land, hold weekly phone conferences with the White House.

Meanwhile, an anti-abortion group billing itself as “Colorado for Equal Rights” has gotten an amendment to the Colorado State Constitution on the Nov. ’08 ballot that will “define a person as a human being from the moment life begins at conception.” This defines an embryo, even as it transforms from a one-celled to a two-celled organism, as a person. And this sets a legal standard by which, in theory, any interference with the post-conception reproductive process by a woman or her doctor could be defined as murder. This bill, if passed, would extend state constitutional protections to every fertilized egg, lay the foundation for making abortion and several forms of birth control illegal in the state, and challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.

So what is Obama’s response to such right-wing OBSCENE attacks on women?

Listen to Obama in a Fox News interview where he says he strongly believes the state “can properly restrict late-term abortions.” But he says he hasn’t supported bills to restrict late-term abortions because they don’t have a provision to protect the health of the woman. He says:

“Now part of the reason they didn’t have it [such a provision] was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion—and I don’t begrudge that at all, they have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.”

Obama then says:

“My goal is to bring people together, to listen to them. And I don’t think there is any Republican out there who I’ve worked with who would say that I don’t listen to them, I don’t respect their ideas, I don’t understand their perspective. And I do not consider Democrats to have a monopoly on wisdom. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we are always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.”

In real life, this message of ending the polarizing debate on abortion means nothing less than conceding ground by seeking common ground; giving in to the right-wing Christian fascist attacks against abortion by listening, understanding and uniting with “their perspective”—and inevitably, in different ways, giving in to, this thoroughly reactionary movement.

Let’s go back to Obama’s targeting of late-term abortions—which provides a preview of where he might stand on this if elected president. In an interview this summer with the Christian rock magazine Relevant, Obama says what he means by a “well-defined exception for the health of the mother.” He said, “Now, I don’t think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.”

Removing “mental distress” as an allowable exception justifying a post-22-week abortion could be used against the Supreme Court decision Doe v. Bolton—handed down the same day as Roe v. Wade. Doe holds that the health exception permitting abortion after viability should be based on a “medical judgment...exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient.” Obama has since said it is not his intention to argue against Doe, but this position objectively concedes to the arguments to outlaw not just late-term abortions, but all abortions.

Conciliation and Capitulation

What about the argument: “OK, but Obama’s position on abortion is still better than John McCain’s”?

John McCain’s anti-abortion position is very OBSCENE. During his 20 years in the Senate (plus four in the House), McCain has never failed to cast his vote in favor of whatever abortion restrictions are arguably permitted under Roe v. Wade. He has taken positions alternately supporting and opposing a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe, but has generally opposed abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and at any time when the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy. Now, in 2008 he is bringing his position fully in line with the Republican Party platform that calls for a nationwide constitutional ban on abortion with NO exceptions.

Obama is appealing to people who want to stop the right-wing wholesale attacks on abortion rights by pointing to McCain’s extreme reactionary position on abortion. But those who think getting behind Obama is going to effectively push back these attacks on abortion need to really examine where Obama’s position and message will actually end up—which is capitulation to the anti-abortion attacks you wanted to get behind Obama to beat back in the first place.

One question people need to seriously ask is: To what extent is Obama actually paving the way, and making it easier, for people to swallow and go along with, even more attacks on abortion rights?

Obama’s message of “ending the polarizing debate on abortion” is a call to reconcile two irreconcilable positions—which can only mean giving in to and conceding more ground to the Christian fascist attacks on abortion. There is no way to reconcile a woman’s fundamental right to abortion with attacks that in fact mean taking away this right—especially when these attacks are headed toward eliminating this right altogether.

You cannot overcome differences between these opposing groups, other than through the capitulation of the one to the other. And what has been happening now for decades and what has been signaled in the Obama campaign is the capitulation to the side that is determined to abolish and criminalize abortion and impose the forceful subordination of women to men.

The religious right’s strategy has been to chip away at abortion rights piece by piece, with the aim of outlawing it completely. And for decades now, mainstream pro-choice groups have put their hopes on and relied on Democratic politicians, just like Obama, who are consistently defensive about the right to abortion (it should be “legal but rare”) and have conceded more and more ground in the face of attacks on the right to abortion. This is the dynamic over the last several decades that has gotten us to the situation where, as of 2005, abortion was unavailable in 87% of the counties in the United States; at least two generations of young women have grown up believing the lie that a fetus is a person; and the U.S. Supreme Court has a hard core that would like to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Abortion was legalized in the U.S. in 1972 in response to objective changes in the economic and social position of women in society and tremendous struggle in the 1960s that challenged long-held traditions on the social role of women. The revolutionary upsurge of the ’60s, of which the women’s liberation movement was a part, did not tie itself into, rely on or confine itself to the electoral arena and bourgeois politics. But in the decades after the ’60s, the mainstream leaders and institutions associated with women’s rights have pretty much subordinated themselves to and become part of the Democratic Party. And as a result there has been a defensive and losing dynamic of increasingly going along with the erosion of reproductive rights.

Bit by bit the moral and legal ground has been traded away and the culture shifted by this compromise and capitulation. And now, no one associated with the supposedly hopeful movement around Obama is going to the DNC in Denver to call for a real determined fight against those who would not only take away a woman’s right to abortion, but would consign half of humanity to dark ages morality and tradition.

Remember back to 10 years ago? Were you one of those people who thought, “they’ll never be able to get rid of Roe v. Wade”? If so you should ask yourself what you’ve learned to accommodate and accept since then. Stop for a minute and assess what has happened and then think about the fact that the same logic four years from now will have you changing your opinions and principles on birth control—because this is where the politics of the change you are allowed to believe in are leading. This is the direction that is being shaped and prepared by the logic and language of “bringing the country together” and ending the polarizing debate over abortion.

The capitulation of those whose stand is politically and morally correct and progressive to those who are politically and morally wrong and reactionary—this is what Obama is advocating and objectively represents and the direction he is taking people who support him.

That is a road that all those who hold the liberation of women close to their hearts do not want to go down. It’s the so-called realistic road of realpolitik that requires political and moral compromise with Christian fascists and it will not result in keeping the country and the culture from moving ever more to the right. What is needed is a thorough break with the dynamic of working within the confines of bourgeois politics. What is needed is independent historical resistance and struggle that refuses to compromise and capitulate and can actually repolarize society in a way more favorable to the people.

There is no objective reason other than the way society is currently organized for women to be denied reproductive freedom. Women must be able to determine when and if they will have children as part of making more overall choices and determinations about what they will do with their lives; to be free to make such choices based not on the narrow horizons of what is best for them or their individual families but based on unleashing the full potential of women to participate in changing the world around her in the direction of the full emancipation of all of humanity.

A world where half of humanity is still having to live under ancient codes of morality that demand the subordination and submission of women is, in 2008, an obscenity. But for all those who dare to throw off tradition’s chains—there is a whole world to win.

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