Revolution #183, November 15, 2009
A Vicious Attack On Women's Rights
The Stupak-Pitts Amendment Must Be Defeated
As the House version of the "Affordable Health Care for America Act" drew to conclusion, a fateful Friday night vote took place. Suddenly a debate over health care turned into a last minute up or down "compromise" vote about the future of abortion. The so-called compromise titled the "Stupak Pitts Amendment," backed by anti-abortion Democrats, has done more to set back and effectively wipe out the right to abortion than anything the religious right was able to accomplish during 8 years of the Bush regime.
The amendment, which will be carried over to Senate versions of the bill, delivers under the guise of health care a monumental assault on the right of women to determine whether and when they wish to have children. Obama's promise of health care reform, when all was said and done, has come to be the vehicle through which ideologically driven attacks on women and immigrants are dispensed. The deal has been struck: "For Cultural Liberals, it was ugly. They had better get used to it" is the way one pundit speaking for the Democratic leadership put it.
This devastating development has shocked and angered many who put their hopes in the Obama presidency to bring change from years of war, repression and Christian fundamentalist onslaught and who now feel thrown under the bus instead.
This is a moment that carries a heavy challenge to anyone who values the lives of women and believes that they should have the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy—to fight for it NOW! People who are outraged by this need to decide that it's time to stop surrendering the interests of women to a political process that requires the enforcement of traditional values and patriarchal oppression for its continued existence. Anyone with a conscience needs to vigorously reject the twisted rationale that throwing women back to the days where they are forced to have babies whether they want them or not is somehow incremental progress! (See the accompanying box for what you can do right now to fight this.)
What Is the Stupak-Pitts Amendment?
It's important that people understand the breadth and depth of the attack embodied in this amendment. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment mandates that no federal funds can be used to pay for an abortion or "cover any part of any health plan" that includes coverage of an abortion, except in cases where the mother's life is in danger or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
The first part of the amendment isn't new. The 1976 Hyde Amendment already prevents the use of federal dollars to pay for most abortions. But the second part would significantly limit the availability of private insurance plans that cover the procedure. The amendment designates two areas where abortion coverage could not be offered—the public option, and on any plan receiving subsidies in the exchange. Because insurance companies would have to take all comers and not deny anyone coverage under the new bill, they would not be able to restrict customers who receive subsidies. So effectively, every plan in the exchange would not allow abortion coverage.
So the Stupak Amendment doesn't just apply to the public option—the lower-cost plan to be offered by the government. The House health care bill will also provide subsidies to help people and small businesses purchase plans on an exchange. This represents a lucrative new market for insurers: anyone earning less than $88,000 for a family of four qualifies for assistance, as well as certain small companies. But to gain access to these new customers, insurers will have to drop abortion coverage from their plans.
About 87% of insurance plans cover abortion (though not all employers choose to actually include it). But under the House bill, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 21 million people will participate in the exchanges by 2019 and that 18 million of them will do so via government subsidies. Over time, the goal is for many more people to join the exchanges—the bigger they are, the more effective they'll be. Not only will this put greater numbers of women in the same bind, it could affect abortion coverage in private plans outside the exchanges too. "How big will exchanges have to be in an insurer's business model before they decide it's easier to standardize their coverage?" asked Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate of the Guttmacher Institute, a policy and research organization that focuses on reproductive health.
The Stupak Amendment says that women are free to buy an optional rider to their plans that would cover abortion, as long as no money appropriated by the bill is used to pay for it. But critics of the amendment have pointed out that this is unreasonable. People don't think they'll need coverage for most medical procedures until the day they actually need it; as critics of the amendment have pointed out, no one plans for an unplanned pregnancy. Imagine if all insurance plans worked like a smorgasbord, in which you tried to guess the operations and medicines you might require sometime in the future. How many procedures would you actually pay for in advance? Many women who do get abortions may think that they even oppose the procedure, at least for themselves, until they are faced with the prospect of being forced to bear a child that they don't want.
And why should this medical procedure needed by many women at some point in their lives, be singled out and prohibited? How is it that in the 21st century superstition and unscientific notions of fetal development and religious institutions can dictate that one of the more common minor surgical procedures in modern medicine cannot be practiced or provided to half the population?
And it's not just those with unintended pregnancies who will be stripped of coverage. The Stupak Amendment includes exemptions for rape, incest, and threats to the life of the mother but not threats to her health or cases of severe fetal abnormality. Women with pregnancies that go horribly wrong will either have to pay for expensive, late-term terminations out of pocket or carry them to term against their will. This means that many women would be forced to continue a doomed pregnancy even if the fetus has no chance of survival and even if it endangers her ability to have children in the future.
By making abortion even more difficult to get than it is now (which is already very difficult), by virtue of legislation that is based on and enforces religious doctrine, it will add to the whole social momentum where fewer doctors are willing to risk their lives to perform this essential service. A procedure that is already not taught in most medical schools will become not just rare but practically unavailable.
(We note in passing that the amendment will also deny coverage to undocumented immigrants even if they use their own money to buy coverage for themselves and their families' insurance coverage—as well as preventing them from receiving subsidies, or Medicaid assistance. Plus legal immigrants and residents are banned from accessing public health benefits for the first 5 years they are in the country—even though they are paying taxes and working. We will cover this in more depth in future issues.)
Behind the Amendment: Theocratic Fascists in the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church Join Arms
One significant element of this entire attack is its author, Bart Stupak. Stupak is a former state trooper who was elected to Congress in Michigan. He co-chairs the "pro-life" caucus in Congress, and calls himself a "pro-life Democrat."
Stupak has also resided since 2002 at the C Street facility for the "Family"—an influential and secret association of powerful theocrats who organize "prayer cells." These Christian Fascists are striving, as author Jeff Sharlet described it in a Rolling Stone article, for "a government led by Christ's will alone." Senators and Congressmen currently living at the C Street headquarters of the "Family" include both Democrats and Republicans. This Washington insiders "skull and bones" type organization's motto is "Jesus plus nothing," and it has had a long list of influential members—from Sam Brownback and John Ashcroft, to Strom Thurmond (an infamous racist senator) and Chuck Colson who played a key role in Nixon's repressive regime. The "Family" hosts an annual prayer breakfast which last year featured Joe Pitts, co-author of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, calling for a "God-Led Government." Pitts is an evangelical and a 20-year veteran of the Christian Fascist movement against abortion.
Stupak's amendment picked up momentum after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that they would fight the bill unless restrictions on abortion were added. The USCCB distributed flyers to every parish across the U.S. and instructed priests to address the legislation at Sunday Mass, organizing parishioners to contact their congressman to support the Stupak Amendment. And Stupak advised Nancy Pelosi that if she wanted a health care bill, then she had better take a late Friday night meeting with the Bishops—which she did before allowing a vote on the amendment.
The USCCB has funded anti-gay marriage initiatives in California and Maine and pushed abstinence in Global HIV policy, opposing the distribution of condoms, despite the fact that this means certain infection and likely death for millions of people. In recent years the Catholic Church has worked to install the social teachings of the Catholic Church in government—an example being Nicaragua and El Salvador which have in a period of counterrevolution in Central America put into place especially medieval laws on abortion that criminalize abortion even when the life of the mother is in danger—resulting in the deaths of at least 82 women in Nicaragua. Conservative Catholic colleges in the U.S., for instance, have removed coverage of birth control from employee health care plans, and criminalizing birth control is part of the political agenda of both evangelicals and theocrats in the Catholic Church.
(Sources: "The Democrats' new "Family" values," Jeff Sharlet, salon.com, November 10, 2009; "When Congress Sells Out Women," Francis Kissling, salon.com, November 9, 2009; "Do Catholic Bishops Run the United States Government?" Jodi Jacobson, RHRealityCheck.org, November 7, 2009)
Common Ground Is Killing Ground
So one year into Obama's "new day" the Democratic Congress has delivered a more decisive setback to abortion rights than anything the Republican party or the Roberts Supreme Court has yet accomplished. And what has effectively confused and immobilized the opposition to this has been the rhetoric and method of "seeking common ground." Just listen to Nancy Pelosi herself on why she let this amendment into the bill:
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: We have sought, in the course of the development of this bill, common ground in many areas, this being one of those. We did not reach the common ground yet that we hope to achieve; therefore, we had an amendment on the floor. We will continue to seek common ground." (From transcript of Democracy Now!, November 9, 2009)
Common ground with those who would condemn women to forced childbirth has been the mantra of the Obama White House. He has preached this on the campaign trail and at a critical speech at Notre Dame University on abortion [see "The Deadly Illusion of 'Common Ground' on Abortion: Response to Obama's speech at Notre Dame on common ground and abortion," by Sunsara Taylor, Revolution issue #166, online at revcom.us, on this]. But as Revolution pointed out at the time, when Obama speaks of common ground he is not standing on some neutral ground. Obama has gone further in legitimizing the terms of the Christian Fascist movement as "points for discussion" and in hammering those terms into the Democratic Party's political framework. (In this, Obama continues and carries further the ugly tradition of the Clintons and Al Gore.)
This has the appearance of reasonableness while adopting and legitimizing an archaic biblical and patriarchal view of women. This has served to push the political and moral goal posts in this society even further to the right. And it has served to bring the morality and political program of the Christian Fascists more securely into the mainstream of American political, ideological and moral life—and now to write it into an extremely far-reaching law.
An Archaic and Depraved Morality
This common ground ends up not being open-minded or tolerant but enforcing the utterly depraved "morality" of those who would force women to bear children against their will and who are increasingly bringing the power and policy of the state to bear in this compulsion, as they have done with this health bill.
The intervention by Catholic Bishops in how this "compromise" was crafted is very important. They actively lobbied and brought significant pressure, including advocating that Democrats who are not opposing abortion be refused Mass and purged from the church. (A serious question: why is the tax-exempt status of this church not being investigated?!)
This is part of a larger offensive. This November the Catholic Bishops are producing a new pastoral letter on marriage—one that puts as a priority addressing what they see as the four main challenges against marriage: contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, and cohabitation. The draft pastoral letter quotes the late Pope John Paul II in the introduction—today "the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it." This revanchist form of traditional morality sees any assertion of independence by a woman against her husband and the church as an existential threat. The pastoral letter, for instance, cites contraception as "an intrinsically evil action." Think about that for a minute! And this is the kind of counterrevolution in the realm of social issues and morality that the political forces arrayed around this health care bill intend to impose on society as a whole.
This is actually the essence of an outmoded Dark Ages morality that is being upheld and enforced: one that sees birth control, abortion and marriage that is not between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation as a threat to the traditional family. The traditional family and the institution of marriage emerged first not as romantic partnering but as economic and social units—basic cells of social organization that cemented relations of wealth and power within society where lines of inheritance that maintained property and power from one generation to the next ran through male lineage. It has been a very short period of human time where women and children were not legally the property of their husbands, and the customs and ideas that sprang from this basic legal and economic arrangement and that served to reproduce these social relations are not only still present but still dominant.
The decision when and if to have children, to see love and sexuality as an expression of affection and a bond among equals, to have the freedom to leave or break off marriage especially by the woman, to partner with someone of the same sex—these are all social relations among people that are relatively new. While emerging out of traditional social relations, these new ways go against and beyond them.
Since the '60s, millions of women have assumed that equality would gradually become more the norm—and millions of youth today see the fight for gay marriage as part of that natural progression. But this is colliding with something very different that is being imposed from the top of society. Religious institutions are carrying out an active "counterrevolution" under the aegis of the ruling class in this country and—as is clear from these developments around the health care bill—are aggressively and brutally reimposing traditional forms of morality and doing so by actively mobilizing and unleashing backward, racist and reactionary sections of the masses who have themselves been thrown into an uncertain future as a result of major changes in the world economy and deepening economic crisis.
During the Bush years the religious right increasingly took hold of the Republican Party. The Bush administration itself was a contentious alliance of neo-cons and religious fundamentalists with theocratic ambitions. But it has not just been the Republicans who have adopted and given support and haven to conservative and fascist forms of Christian fundamentalism. There are now 20 anti-abortion Democrats in Congress, most of whom are Catholic and participants in Democrats for Life, and who have pushed for this stealth attack on abortion in the battle around health care. Howard Dean, when he was Party chair, initiated outreach to integrate anti-abortion Democrats into the Party. Over the next period the Democratic leadership adopted the language of anti-abortion Democrats calling them "pro-life."
In 2008 Democratic Party operatives told pro-choice activists, "If we can get a Democratic majority we can save choice," while Rahm Emanuel actively courted anti-abortion Catholics to run for office. Now these same activists are being told that they should stop complaining and work for passage of the health care bill. They are being told that they are "narrow" and "selfish"—for daring to uphold basic and fundamental rights of over one-half of humanity!
Bob Avakian sums up the reasons for this in Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality (1999, Banner Press), which we will briefly quote here but which merits fuller reading and study. Avakian points out:
At the same time, many of these same factors, together with the struggle waged by the women's movement, have resulted in a situation where large numbers of women have not only the necessity but also the possibility of working outside the home. All this has been accompanied by a great deal of turmoil and upheaval, and one of its most important consequences has been that, from a number of angles and among various sectors of the population in the U.S., the basis of the traditional patriarchal family and the "traditional family values" associated with it has been significantly eroded. And yet all these changes are taking place within the confines of the same system—on the same foundation of capitalist economic relations.
This is potentially a very explosive contradiction, and in many aspects this explosiveness is already erupting. On the one hand, it is vitally important for those who preside over this system to "contain" this contradiction and not to allow it to produce a polarization that could threaten to tear society apart. In particular, they must try to avoid fundamentally alienating great numbers of women and driving them into radical opposition to the status quo—including many professional and other middle class women. At the same time, it is crucial for the guardians of the status quo to fortify patriarchal relations, while adjusting them to the realities of the present situation.
The polarization and bitter struggle around the right to abortion has been a concentrated expression of this. Clearly, the essence of the anti-abortion "movement"—which from its inception has been led and orchestrated from "on high" (I am referring to the role of powerful ruling class figures, not the alleged inspiration from god)—has been to assert patriarchal control over women, including to insist on the defining role of women as breeders of children. The fundamentalist foot-soldiers of this "movement" make this very clear.
The following prayer offered at an "Operation Rescue" rally, cited in Life magazine (July 1992) typifies this: "Oh please, Lord, break the curse on women's hearts that says we don't need our men. Break that independence."…
If the Senate passes a health care bill that effectively prohibits abortion, women will be cast back to the days when only the very rich could determine the course of the rest of their lives. While birth control and abortion by themselves have not liberated women, they have made possible enormous change in the participation of women in many aspects and realms of society previously closed to them. It has changed modern life to the point that now the majority of those employed are women. That in turn has also brought with it tumultuous change in families, in women's view of themselves and their relative independence from men. That simple measure of control—for millions and millions of women to delay motherhood and get an education, or start a career, or to just discover and experience life before having to subordinate their whole being to the needs of a husband and children—just that has been a seismic change for much of humanity. And this has undermined the ground that thousands of years of tradition have rested on.
It has not changed the fact that women have the primary responsibilities for domestic life and it has certainly not changed the reality that women are still judged and evaluated by their benefit to men, as mothers and wives and objects of sexual gratification. But it has sprung centuries of tradition into the air. If you watch the TV show Mad Men you are reminded that until a few decades ago a woman who wanted to leave a marriage in "enlightened New York" did not have the right to divorce unless she could prove adultery—and if she left her husband most state laws threatened that she would lose her children.
A few short years later, the women's movement led millions to repudiate obedience to one's husband, docile domestic servitude and unplanned pregnancies. The social fabric that depends upon "a woman's place is in the home" has been drawn taut and is shearing apart. The question is, to paraphrase Avakian, will all this result in a radical reactionary resolution of this where women are forcibly put back in their place, or will there be a radical revolutionary resolution that finally can liberate women?
For anyone who values women, not just as mothers but as full human beings, there is really one overarching moral question. Women must be free to determine their lives, including whether and when, if at all, they will have children. For women to be liberated this is a foundational and fundamental right. No woman should have to live in fear of a period missed. No woman should have to go through what women in 87% of the counties in the U.S. go through now—where abortion is not available. No woman should have to travel hundreds of miles and then have to endure waiting periods, which sometimes include scripted vicious mandatory lectures designed to make her feel guilty. No woman should be denied an abortion—by religious scripture, or the needs of the capitalist marketplace or by state institutions. And no woman should have to feel any form of remorse or guilt because she chooses to make conscious decisions about the rest of her life.
Enforced motherhood is not "moral," it is an outrage—and it should be a bygone barbarity. There is no longer any need for a woman's role in society to be dictated by her biological role in childbearing. And there is no need for humanity to be retarded and hemmed in by patriarchal traditions and oppressive religious morality. Today this is as cruel as it is unnecessary. For the first time in human history it is possible not just to theorize and dream about getting beyond centuries of women being subjugated—it's actually possible to break these chains and to overcome the oppressive division of labor that squanders the abilities and aspirations of half of humanity to participate in society as full human beings. It's actually possible to move toward a future of generations of men and women being raised equally, and with society as a whole increasingly taking on much of the enslaving domestic duties that have been the exclusive domain of women for thousands of years.
This is a future that is not possible under the property-defined social relations of a capitalist system. This future takes making revolution and setting up a new state power that consciously undertakes the transformation of society towards getting beyond oppression and inequality and age-old division of labor—that backs up women to take part in every aspect of society as full human beings. A society guided by communist morality. As the Revolutionary Communist Party's "A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity" states:
Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution...
Break Out of the Stranglehold
Today there is an important fight to wage. In the name of common ground the health care bill is becoming the burial ground for the lives and rights and aspirations of women to be treated as full human beings.
Here we are on the brink of legislation that would for all practical purposes be an overturning of what was won by Roe v. Wade, and the most infuriating thing is that only the fascists and reactionaries are full of passion and energetic mobilization. For months now a few thousand racist tea baggers have been allowed to frame the terms of political discussion and debate. Meanwhile, despite facing a real attack, not a single pro-choice leader with resources and means is willing to call the millions of people outraged and in anguish about the future of abortion into the streets. Instead we get the same old "make them pay at the polls – elect more women—be realistic and don't make too much noise—don't get hysterical, just be patient and wait for another day when we can...what? Oh yes...elect even more Democrats." Some even say that maybe in Obama's second term he'll get in touch with his inner progressive....
We'd say keep dreaming if doing so was not so harmful to people for generations to come. But this is no time for cynical realpolitik, for shrugging your shoulders and retreating further into passivity. There is still time to mobilize people, to mount a groundswell to expose, oppose and defeat this law and in so doing to fight for the initiative in re-framing the terms of debate—in putting the liberation of women at the center of all this, and making that the standard of judgment and the focus of discussion.
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