Revolution #186, December 20, 2009
Abortion on the Line—A Time for Rage, Not for Lobbying!
In May of this year, Dr. George Tiller, one of the most courageous abortion doctors in the country, was assassinated. Two weeks ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a version of health care reform that includes an amendment, Stupak-Pitts, that would deprive women of health care that covers abortion if they receive any form of government stipend or tax break. While a similar amendment was narrowly defeated in the Senate, the final health care bill is yet to be determined.
Taken together, these events represent an escalation in the legal and extra-legal assault on women's right to abortion beyond anything under the Bush Regime.
Yet, precisely at this moment, when an outpouring of rage and defiance is most needed, the silence and capitulation of the pro-choice "movement" is almost as stunning as it is deadly.
This movement has channeled people into the dead end of relying practically on the Democratic Party and ceding the moral high ground and political initiative to Christian fascists.
In response to the Stupak amendment, the nation's most recognized pro-choice organizations—NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and others—formed a coalition and called for a "Day of Action" in DC. But, for reasons they didn't explain, they canceled their outdoor rally at the last minute and focused entirely on lobbying. The Democrats all already know that Stupak will cause women to suffer and die. What they—along with everyone else—need to know is that the pro-choice majority is no longer satisfied to just come begging for our rights.
The name of their coalition, "The Coalition to Pass Health Care Reform and Stop Stupak," is itself quite revealing. Note that their lead slogan is to "Pass Health Care Reform." Only secondarily do they mention "Stop[ping] Stupak." And nowhere do they demand a repeal of the woman-killing Hyde Amendment which banned federal funds for abortion and is the precedent that Bart Stupak is claiming. All this is keeping precisely within the logic of the Democratic Party and almost guarantees capitulation. Even Louise M. Slaughter, the co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus, voted for Stupak-Pitts in the name of passing health care reform!
Unfortunately, this defensive and losing dynamic is not new.
In 2006, the governor of South Dakota signed a complete ban on abortions. The pro-choice coalition that formed (which included NARAL and Planned Parenthood) did not expose this as the viciously anti-woman measure that it was, nor did they seize the moral high ground against it. Instead, they ran television ads which argued merely that the ban "went too far" by failing to make any exception for rape, incest and the life of the woman. These ads also called for people to "honor and protect human life, reduce the number of abortions."
Stop and think about that. If you have to actually argue that women who are raped or whose lives are in danger ought to have access to abortion, you are arguing with people whose view of women is nothing more than sex objects or breeders. Even worse, you are arguing on their terms! And the idea that pro-choice people who donated to stop this ban ended up underwriting ads against abortion and for the idea that fetuses are "human life" to be "honored and protected" is truly sick!!
Finally, the pro-choice movement not only has distanced itself from abortion, it has distanced itself from the doctors who provide abortions—even when they have been under deadly assault. Harkening back to Dr. Tiller, it is notable that despite the outpouring of nearly a thousand supporters from around the country to his funeral, the leaders of NARAL, NOW, and the Feminist Majority didn't even bother to show up.
This type of "leadership" is worse than nothing at all.
The problem is not that there is a lack of pro-choice people who would flood into the streets to protest. The last time they were called on to do so (in 2004) more than half a million descended on DC. Nor is the problem mainly, as some now argue, that a whole generation has grown up without the harrowing memories of botched illegal abortions. While these kinds of visceral memories certainly can lend urgency and passion to pro-choice people, the real problem is that for decades the energies of the pro-choice majority have been consistently squandered, suffocated and channeled into dead ends by pro-choice "leaders" who long ago slavishly subordinated themselves to the Democratic Party.
The real problem is that, because of this, two generations have grown into a world where it is far more common to hear a passionate defense of the so-called "rights" and "dignity" of frozen embryos than it is to hear an unapologetic defense of the right and dignity of women being able to decide for themselves when and whether to have children.
The real problem is that for decades the lunatic Christian fascists have consistently mobilized while the pro-choice "movement" has remained largely passive and straitjacketed in the Democratic Party's dynamic of capitulation.
The fact is, as much as some Democrats may disagree with banning abortion, they are a ruling class party. Their allegiance to maintaining the stability of U.S. capitalism-imperialism is much greater than any principles they have on behalf of women or any other oppressed group they seek to appeal to for votes. They desperately want to avoid the fallout from actually mobilizing the forces necessary to go up against and defeat the Christian fascist movement more than they want to avoid fascism itself. As for the Christian fascists, they actually make up a very important core of the ruling class and are quite eager to mobilize their social base into a fascist frenzy. This dynamic, if left on the terms of the ruling class, will only get worse.
Barack Obama and the Democrats are wrong when they say we can or should seek "common ground" on abortion.
What "common ground" can there be with a movement whose aim is to enslave women to our reproduction and force us to bear children against our will? What "common ground" can there be with a movement that will stop at nothing—not terror and assassinations or faulty science and woman-killing legislation—to deprive women of the ability to be more than breeders? As bad as a ban on abortion would be, it would not stop there. There is not a single "pro-life" organization that upholds birth control. The very Catholic Bishops who pushed Stupak-Pitts consider birth control "intrinsically evil." Groups like Human Life International praise the anti-abortion laws in El Salvador, where miscarriages are investigated by the government and women are thrown in jail if they get an abortion.
The right to abortion is central to women's role in society and there is nothing "tragic" about it. Fetuses are not babies and abortion is not murder. Without being able to decide for themselves, free of coercion, shame or danger, when and whether they will have children, women have no more freedom than slaves. When half of humanity is oppressed, all of society suffers.
It is long past time a different dynamic be set. It is time for the pro-choice majority to unchain themselves from the craven political calculations and capitulation of the Democratic Party. It is time to unshackle our energies from the pro-choice "leadership" that has tied itself to that Party. It is time to go back into the streets. It is time for the millions of women who have had abortions to come out and speak openly and defiantly about this, to lift the shame and to challenge the stigma. It is time for doctors who provide abortions to be cherished and protected. Not only must Stupak-Pitts be defeated, abortion and birth control must be expanded and celebrated. Abortion must be available on demand and without apology. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every sphere of society together with men, we must not be enslaved to our reproduction.
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