The ORGANIZER Weekly Newsletter
Special Supplement to Issue No. 62
May 10, 2022
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IN THIS ISSUE:
• “An Attack on Women’s Reproductive Rights Is a Direct Attack on All Workers!” — Bay Area Labor Leaders at Oakland (CA) Rally – by Mya Shone
• The Historic Roe v. Wade
• Anti-Abortion Laws Across the United States
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“An Attack on Women’s Reproductive Rights Is a Direct Attack on All Workers!” — Bay Area Labor Leaders at Oakland (CA) Rally
By Mya Shone
“Bans off our Bodies!” – “My Body, My Choice!” – “Abortion is Healthcare!” On Monday evening, May 2, within moments of publication of the leaked draft of a United States Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade — the longstanding (nearly half-a-century) federal protection of a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy — people mobilized outside the Court and organized protests at federal courts throughout the country.
“We refuse to let the U.S. Supreme Court deny women’s humanity and decimate their rights” read a large banner displayed at New York City’s Foley Square courthouse. “Economic freedom and reproductive freedom are inextricably linked,” declared labor leaders at a rally organized by the San Francisco Bay Area labor councils at the federal building in Oakland, Calif. “An attack on women’s reproductive rights,” they asserted, “is a direct attack on all workers.”
More than 100 million women, including those living in nearly every Southern state and many throughout the Midwest, will lose access to legal and safe abortion. Twenty-six states — more than half of the 50 states — are certain or likely to ban abortion with laws or constitutional amendments already in place. These laws are, in essence, forced pregnancy legislation. They are attacks on a woman’s right to have control over her body and future (bodily autonomy). They treat a woman as property, imposing child bearing and child rearing responsibilities upon her should she become pregnant, or forcing her to make the traumatic choice to abandon a child. These laws are part and parcel of a war on women.
Seventy percent of women in the United States today have grown up in the aftermath of the 1973 Roe ruling. They struggled in state after state as these states made access to abortion difficult and, in many instances inaccessible, such that 90 percent of U.S. counties have no clinic providing abortion services. They raised private funding to enable poor women to have access to abortion procedures after the federal government cut off public dollars in 1976, soon after the Roe decision. But few anticipated that the day would come when a majority of justices, albeit conservative (Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Brett Cavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett), would disregard the legal principle stare decisis and Supreme Court custom of relying upon prior decisions and feel empowered to overturn Roe itself.
The draft opinion crafted by Justice Alito not only shows complete disregard for women, it is a narrow reading of the U.S. Constitution, more as a biblical tract written in stone than as a document to be interpreted with deference to societal changes. “Even though the Constitution makes no mention of abortion,” Alito wrote at the beginning of the 98-page draft opinion, “the Court (in Roe) held that it confers a broad right to obtain one.”
Instead, the reactionary and doctrinaire Alito relies upon judicial precedents dating back to the 13th century — an era of English Common Law when a woman was considered to be her husband’s chattel (property) — in order to sustain his position that abortion historically has been a crime. Among Alito’s most egregious citations, however, is that from Sir Edward Coke’s 17th-century treatise in which Coke concludes that abortion was “some heinous offense under the degree of felony.” This is the same Sir Edward Coke who wrote the English laws on witchcraft condemning women and children to death.
Despite the impending Supreme Court decision there remains the option of federal legislation that would supplant anti-abortion state laws. As people protest throughout the country, they demand: Where is Biden? Where is the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) that would guarantee the right to abortion?
Each and every day we are confronted with the fact that the structure of the U.S. government is inherently undemocratic even for a bourgeois republic. Presidents can be elected without winning a majority of the popular vote. California with its population of almost 40 million people has the same representation in the Senate — one of the two houses of Congress — as the state of Wyoming with fewer than 600,000 inhabitants, North Dakota with fewer than 800,000, South Dakota with a little more than 900,000, and Delaware with its population of one million, four states with a total population less than half that of the San Francisco Bay Area.
As a result, 41 senators representing less than 12 percent of the population can block legislation unless an exception is made to an arcane rule adopted by the Senate that remains the legacy of the slavocracy and later Jim Crow – that is, the filibuster requiring 60 votes to close debate and move on to a vote on legislation (the vote on legislation itself requiring only a simple majority to pass).
Currently, it would take all 48 Democratic Party Senators, the two Independents who vote with them, along with the vote of the Vice President, to bypass the filibuster. However, two Democratic Party Senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Krysten Sinema of Arizona remain firmly opposed, and Manchin, along with Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, oppose the WHPA anyway. Where does this leave the WHPA? Dead in the water with only a symbolic charade when Senate Majority Chuck Schumer (Democrat from New York) introduces it again in the Senate this week. (On February 28, both Manchin and Casey, Jr. as well as all Republican senators, voted against even opening debate on the legislation.)
What else can women expect from the Democratic Party that refuses consistently to take the necessary steps to ensure voting rights, labor rights, and women’s rights, such as abortion even when polls show that 70 percent of the nation support a woman’s right to choose.
What else can women expect from the Democratic Party that refuses to pull out the stops to pass legislation that would secure basic needs for the nearly one third of the population, 100 million people, who live in economic insecurity on the brink of being unable to feed, clothe, and provide housing and medical care for themselves and their families.
What else can women expect from the Democratic Party that votes consistently and overwhelmingly to fund genocidal wars of pillage and plunder against peoples throughout the world.
Seven years ago, as states were imposing major abortion restrictions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (then the House Minority leader) told the Washington Post that abortion is “kind of fading as an issue.” “It really is,” she stressed. How wrong Pelosi was then and the consequences for women have been devastating.
As Congressional primaries move into high gear throughout the country, Democratic Party leaders Pelosi and James Clyburn (South Carolina), the third highest ranking Democrat in the House, have openly defied national women’s organizations whose primary objective in this election cycle is to unseat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), the last anti-choice Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I support my incumbents,” Pelosi said during a news conference in Austin in March. “I support every one of them, from right to left. That is what I do.”
We saw what that means for women two days after the leaked draft Supreme Court decision that willoverturn Roe. On the campaign stump along with Cuellar in Texas was none other than James Clyburn with an aggressive stance. “I don’t believe we ought to have a litmus test in the Democratic Party,” Clyburn asserted. “This whole notion that you’ve got to agree with everybody on everything,” he added, “is pretty sophomoric to me.”
This isn’t the first time Democrats have thrown women under the bus for party loyalty or expediency and it will not be the last. The issue as always of how to bring about effective and lasting change remains the same for women as for all.
It is the working class and oppressed communities that have the most to lose. “We must be able to control our own bodies,” stated Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO president, noting the “direct impact on economic justice and the ability of working people to make a better life for themselves and their families.”
The historic union challenge remains: “Which side are you on?” The time is long overdue for Liz Shuler and other U.S. labor leaders to break with the Democrats and demonstrate that they truly are on the side of women as well as all the working class – in deeds as well as words.
It is up to each and every one of us as we mobilize and show our strength in numbers to assert our political power not by electing Democrats but by developing our own political party — a working class party rooted in labor and oppressed communities — that is independent of the capitalist ruling class and the Democratic Party that serves its interests
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The Historic Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade is the landmark federal case that characterized a woman’s right to choose abortion as “fundamental.” Until the January 22, 1973 Supreme Court decision, there was no federal protection. Abortion was illegal in 30 states and the other 20 states had laws which allowed abortion under circumstances that often were difficult to meet. The majority opinion, written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, was rooted in a woman’s right to privacy which he found implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The 14th Amendment is the second of three amendments ratified between 1865 and 1870, the five years after the Civil War. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship and equal civil and legal rights to African Americans and enslaved people (albeit at the time voting rights only to men). Over time, the Supreme Court interpreted the due process clause to guarantee a wide array of rights against infringement by the states including the “right to privacy” and the freedom to make “intimate and personal choices” that are “central to personal dignity and autonomy.”
The Court with its Roe decision still asserted a “compelling state interest” in the health of pregnant women and in the potential life of fetuses but the Court provided — significantly — strict guidelines for the point at which states could intervene. Most importantly, Roe left the decision to terminate a pregnancy to the woman herself prior to the point of “viability” when a fetus could survive outside the womb — now considered to be 23 weeks.
Roe transformed the lives of women and their families in the United States. Pre-Roe, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) estimates that 1.2 million U.S. women had illegal abortions every year and that unsafe abortions killed as many as 5,000 of them. Even today with increased access to birth control, the ACOG states that one half of all pregnancies are unintended and between 40 to 50 percent of them are terminated by abortion.
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Anti-Abortion Laws Across the United States
One in ten women in the United States live in Texas. Texas’ new law, S.B. 8 (the Texas Heartbeat Act), which the Supreme Court left in place when a legal challenge was brought before it, empowers citizens to be bounty hunters against abortion providers and those who provide support for women. The Texas law empowers anyone to sue providers in civil court who perform abortions after “six weeks from conception” with no exceptions for rape, sexual abuse, incest or fetal anomaly diagnoses as well as empowering anyone who has helped them in any way to access the abortion. This includes friends who may have provided financial assistance or even an Uber or Lyft driver. Not only can they sue, but if they win, the law requires each defendant to pay the plaintiff at least $10,000 and their legal fees. Thus, as of September 1, 2021, Texas and the Supreme Court have deputized an army of vigilante bounty hunters.
Most women are unaware that they are pregnant six weeks into conception. This is just two weeks after a missed period for those with a regular menstrual cycle. About 85 percent to 90 percent of women who obtain abortions in Texas are at least six weeks pregnant. Nationally, almost two-thirds of abortions occur after six weeks.
Mississippi law — the “Gestational Age Act”— imposing a 15-week abortion ban except in cases of “medical emergency” and “severe fetal abnormality” is the case — Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — before the Supreme Court that is addressed in Justice Alito’s draft majority decision. Mississippi’s ruling government requested that the Court set aside Roe entirely by reverting all control of abortion back to state legislatures as it was pre-Roe or, at least gutting Roe by ruling in favor of Mississippi’s law imposing the 15-week abortion ban. Now we know from the draft majority opinion that the Court opted for the former — eliminating the federal protection guaranteed by Roe.
The state of Alabama set the stage for total abortion bans when its “Human Life Protection Act” (HB314) was signed into law May 15, 2019. This draconian law asserts that “personhood” begins at conception and does not make exceptions for pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. To compel compliance, the Alabama legislature makes it a felony, subject to a 99-year prison sentence, for any doctor who performs, or even attempts to perform, an abortion except in the few cases where a woman’s life is at risk. All legal challenges will be set aside as soon as Roe is overturned.
Depriving women of their reproductive rights is taking place at the local level as well. In 2021, Lubbock, Texas became the 26th municipality in the country to pass an anti-abortion ordinance that creates what is called inappropriately “sanctuary cities for the unborn.”