February 2007  
Outrage! Teenager Prosecuted for “Procuring a Miscarriage”

Defend Amber Abreu – Drop All the Charges!

State Wants to Charge Her with Murder for Attempted Abortion

Amber Abreu at court arraignment, 24 January 2007Amber Abreu in court with her public defender (right) on January 24.
(Photo: Deborah Hammond/AP)

FEBRUARY 22 – On January 6, 18-year-old Amber Abreu went to the hospital in Lawrence, Massachusetts after trying to terminate a pregnancy by taking a drug, misoprostol, that is a key component of the abortion pill RU-486. The result was a miscarriage. The doctors rushed the 1-1/4 pound expelled fetus to the Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, where it remained alive for four days. The police, meanwhile, went after Amber using an archaic law dating back to the 1840s to charge her with “procuring a miscarriage.” Cops dragged Abreu into court in shackles and then held her in the state’s maximum security prison at Framingham for days until friends and relatives could come up with $15,000 bail. The young woman, a recent immigrant from the Dominican Republic, faces seven years in jail on this outrageous charge. But the state wants to go even further. According to the Boston Globe (25 January), “Prosecutors said that Abreu may be charged with homicide,” for which she could face a sentence of life behind bars. This whole prosecution is an obscene miscarriage of justice.

Amber Abreu is innocent. We demand that all charges against her be dropped. The crime here is to prosecute the teenage immigrant for what should be every woman’s right. You don’t have to go back to the Salem, Mass. witch trials of the 17th century to find examples of the hideous persecution of women. The judicial victimization of Amber Abreu is a witchhunt by anti-abortion forces. We demand the abolition of all laws outlawing or restricting abortion. For free abortion on demand!

Amber Abreu came to the United States 18 months ago, obtained a general equivalency degree and started to study at Northern Essex Community College, taking English as a Second Language. Far from being a murderer, she is a victim of the maze of legal restrictions imposed on women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Having had a prior abortion, which cost $200, she didn’t want to ask her mother to pay that again. So she took a drug, known by the brand name Cytotec, that is freely available over the counter in the Dominican Republic and widely used there by women as a home remedy in a country where abortion is illegal. Amber was between 23 and 25 weeks pregnant. Since abortion is illegal in Massachusetts after 24 weeks, so the prosecutors are awaiting a determination by the medical examiner of how far advanced the fetus was in order to charge Abreu with homicide. This is an abomination.

It is also part of the on-going war on abortion rights in the U.S. The case of Amber Abreu highlights the fact that what’s at issue is not just the legal “right to choose,” it’s about the actual access to abortion services. In many states laws have been passed to prevent teenage women from terminating a pregnancy without notifying their parents. Clinics have been besieged by right-wing “god squads” seeking not only to harass women seeking an abortion, but also to shut the facilities down. In a several Midwestern and Mountain states this has succeeded to the point that there are only one or two abortion clinics left. On top of this, the anti-abortion bigots resort to outright murder, posting the names and addresses of abortion doctors on the Internet, shooting them in their homes and bombing clinics. Right-wing terrorist John Salvi killed two workers at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Brookline and wounded five others in 1994. The Internationalist Group calls for militant working-class defense of abortion clinics. 

Massachusetts has been denounced by theocratic reactionaries as a “land of Satan” because in 2003 and 2004 a state supreme court ruling made the commonwealth the only state in the country where gay couples can legally marry. At the same time, however, recent ex-governor (and now presidential contender) Mitt Romney vetoed every law expanding abortion rights and now declares himself a “right-to-lifer” (as well as opposing same-sex marriage and even civil unions for gays). Even many liberals, like Democratic senator and former presidential candidate John Kerry, declare they are “personally” opposed to a woman’s right abortion. Rather than frontally taking on the vast array of forces opposed to abortion, extending from Catholic and evangelical Christian right-wingers to liberal Democrats, various bourgeois feminist groups have responded by fudging their language and supporting one or another “pro-choice” bourgeois politician.

The fact that Amber Abreu could be jailed for up to seven years or spend life in prison for trying to put a stop to an unwanted pregnancy is a horrendous atrocity. Yet the “mainstream” feminists haven’t exactly rushed to highlight her case. According to an article by Juliette Terzieff in Women’s e-News (12 February), the Cambridge-based Abortion Access Project has helped Abreu “identify medical and legal experts to support her public defender,” and the American Civil Liberties Union is “monitoring the case” and has “spoken with the family about available services and support.” But where is the national outcry over the hideous persecution of this 18-year-old immigrant who symbolizes the plight of young women, often terribly alone, who face desperate decisions that can ruin their lives? Columnist Eileen McNamara wrote a piece in the Boston Globe (28 January) titled “Bad Choices All Around,” referring to “one teenager’s bad choices,” as if this “tragedy” was in any way Amber’s fault! But McNamara at least recognizes this as “an indictment of a culture that tells all women abortion is their legal, constitutionally protected right, but tolerates a lack of access for the neediest women.”

With the addition of two raving anti-abortion bigots to the United States Supreme Court, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts, right-wingers are gearing up a drive to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in the U.S. While voters in South Dakota overwhelmingly rejected a near-total ban on abortions, anti-abortion forces have introduced new bills there. Around the country, “pro-life” reactionaries have been pushing to enact state laws which would outlaw abortion in almost all cases, even, in Georgia, in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. (The Georgia bill calls for life in prison or the death penalty for women who have abortions and the doctors who provide them.) They want a total ban at the state level so that the minute Roe v. Wade is struck down, abortion will effectively be outlawed across large parts of the U.S. The response of the bourgeois feminists has been to crow that in last year’s mid-term elections, “pro-choice” Democrats were elected! “We should celebrate these electoral wins,” writes Nancy Keenan, president of “NARAL Pro-Choice America,” which used to be the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League but appeased the reactionaries by removing the word abortion from its name.

The NARAL leader ascribed the electoral “successes” to the fact that “the public has grown tired of the divisiveness on this topic.” So now these “pro-choice” advocates are calling for “prevention-based” measures like birth control that they hope will win support from some anti-abortion elements. In doing so they are following the lead of Democratic Party politicians like Hillary Clinton, who in a speech on the January 2005 anniversary of Roe v. Wade sought “common ground” with those who hold that there are “are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be available” (!), calling for “assistance” so that “the choice guaranteed under our Constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.” So where Bill Clinton declared that abortions should be “safe, legal and rare,” Hillary Clinton wants them to be safe, legal and never!! But what would one expect from the war hawk who joined Bush in justifying the invasion of Afghanistan with hypocritical talk about safeguarding the rights of Afghan women (who are still imprisoned in head-to-toe burkas) and has repeatedly voted to support the U.S. imperialist invasion and colonial occupation of Iraq?

As the liberal Democrats and bourgeois feminists seek “common ground” with right-wing reactionaries, many leftists and would-be socialists tag along behind, using the language of “choice” instead of demanding that abortion be available on the simple request of the woman, at no cost to her, in safe and high quality medical facilities. For even the simple democratic right to abortion is profoundly affected by economic questions and legal status. As Globe columnist McNamara wrote, “A well-heeled suburban 18-year-old who chooses to terminate a pregnancy need only write a check.” But this “choice,” even where it is legally possible, does not mean real access to abortion for those without financial means. Democratic president Jimmy Carter signed the Hyde Amendment which banned the use of Medicaid funds for abortions. Today young women still die from the complications of back-alley or self-induced abortions. Many immigrant women, especially those lacking documents, hesitate to go to a hospital for fear of deportation. Amber Abreu was lucky she could get medical care, but now she faces years if not life in prison.

Racism is a fundamental factor here as well. White prosecutors in Lawrence, Massachusetts want to jail 18-year-old Abreu, supposedly out of concern for the “life” of an aborted fetus. In Kansas City, Missouri a year ago, police pulled over 32-year-old Sofia Salva, a black Sudanese immigrant, for traffic citations, but refused to take her to a hospital even though a videotape of the arrest shows her pleading at least a dozen times that she was bleeding and having a miscarriage. “How is that my problem?” says a woman cop. After holding Salva for nine hours in a jail cell, they finally sent her to a hospital where she delivered a premature baby that lived for one minute. Naturally, no charges have been brought against the killer cops. Former Black Panther and renowned radical journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal wrote in a February 4 column from Pennsylvania’s death row: “When I heard this story, I thought of the motto, ‘protect and serve’ – and wondered, ‘protect who?’ – ‘serve who?’” The answer is that the police protect the property and interests of the capitalists and serve the interests of the bourgeois ruling class against those of the oppressed and exploited majority.

“The Lawrence way,” then and now. Cartoon from the IWWs Industrial Worker, 1912. (Walter P. Reuther Library/Wayne State University)

The question of the rights of working-class immigrant women is central to the history of Lawrence, Mass., the mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River which was the site of the 1912 strike by 20,000 textile workers that ended in a stunning victory for the strikers. The walkout began over wage cuts when the mill bosses slashed the pay of their workers (most of them women and children) because the legislature restricted children’s working hours to 54 a week. The workers’ demand was for 54 hours’ work for 56 hours’ pay! Even though it was relatively small, the pay cut could buy a few loaves of bread for the hard-pressed workers. The women workers waved signs proclaiming, “We Want Bread and Roses Too!” The strike committee, led by the radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), issued strike leaflets in more than a dozen languages to reach the Italian, French-Canadian, Portuguese, Polish, German, Austrian, Belgian, Russian, Syrian, English, Irish, Jewish and American strikers and hold them together for ten weeks.

At a key point during the protracted struggle, the strikers decided to send their children to supporters in other cities to care for them for the duration. As a trainload of children arrived in New York’s Grand Central Station they were greeted by a crowd singing the workers’ anthem, The Internationale. Lawrence authorities accused the strikers of exploiting their children (what of the exploitation by the mill owners?) and as a group of 40 children and their mothers marched to a train, they were set upon and viciously clubbed by the police. This dramatized the plight of the Lawrence strikers and contributed greatly to the eventual victory. Today, working people should protest the vicious persecution of Amber Abreu which throws a sharp light on the plight of poor immigrant and working women.

At a general level, many leftists pose the issue of women’s liberation as a purely bourgeois-democratic issue, instead of recognizing, as Marxists do, that the oppression of women is bound up in the social conditions of capitalism. It is rooted in institution of the family, which is one of the mainstays of capitalism and a bedrock for conservative values. Women’s oppression is intensified and compounded for poor and working-class women, who must endure a “double shift” of work, at low wages, followed by family care. Black, Latina and Asian women face a triple oppression as they face the added burdens of racism, while immigrants lack even the most basic formal democratic rights. The condition of women in semi-colonial countries is far worse: every year the number of women hospitalized after unsafe illegal abortions include 288,700 in Brazil; 106,500 in Mexico; 80,000 in the Philippines; 71,800 in Bangladesh; and 16,500 in the tiny Dominican Republic. To put an end to this horror story, the League for the Fourth International fights for workers revolution throughout the capitalist world.

Revolutionary Marxists emphasize that to liberate women from the many forms of oppression they have suffered since the dawn of class society it is necessary to fight for their full integration into social labor, with equal pay for equal work; for free, 24-hour day care; for free, voluntary communal laundry and dining facilities; for free abortion on demand and free, high-quality health care for all; and for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Many of these measures were included in the program of the Russian Bolsheviks led by Lenin and Trotsky, and were begun to be realized following the October Revolution of 1917. Carrying out such a program would be immensely easier today. But this requires a break from the capitalist parties and the formation of a revolutionary workers party that fights for a workers government, where those who labor rule. The Trotskyists stand for women’s liberation through socialist revolution. n

To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: internationalistgroup@msn.com