Abortion on Demand –
Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution
Court Cancels Right to Abortion:
Trigger for Ultra-Rightist Mobilization
Internationalist Group and Class Struggle Workers – Portland at June 24 protest against Supreme Court canceling constitutional right to abortion. Soviet Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution was the first country to legalize abortion on demand.
On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision which for almost 50 years was the basis for women’s constitutional right to abortion. Conservatives have been chipping away at that right from the beginning, and now with a right-wing supermajority on the high court (six conservatives to three liberals) they went for the kill. Everyone knew it was coming: the die was cast with the appointments to the court of the rightist dissemblers Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and (on the eve of the 2020 elections) Amy Coney Barrett by the all-round reactionary president Donald Trump. The death knell was sounded on May 3, when the draft majority opinion by Samuel Alito overturning Roe was leaked. Yet even so, the impact of the cancellation of a constitutional right that had stood for half a century was huge.
That day there were large demonstrations, 30,000+ in New York City and thousands more around the country. Most protesters were young – until then, they and their mothers could decide to have a child or not, and suddenly in half the country that right was gone. Many protests were called by non-establishment groups: while mainstream feminists called to elect more “pro-choice candidates” (i.e., Democrats), opportunist left groups couched their strategy of pressuring the Democrats in calls to take to the streets. In contrast, the Internationalist Group/Revolutionary Internationalist Youth and fraternally class-struggle workers groups had contingents in NYC, Los Angeles and Portland, with banners and signs declaring “Free Abortion on Demand,” “Democrats: Faux Friends of Women,” “Bolshevik Revolution First Legalized Abortion on Demand” and “Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution.”
Mass outrage over Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Over 20,000 protesters jammed into New York City’s Washington Square Park on June 24, then marched for hours. Another 10,000 went to Union Square.
President Joe Biden declared that the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is “a tragic error by the Supreme Court.” But although they had months to prepare for this moment, the Democrats had no answer except to say vote for them in November: “This fall, Roe is on the ballot,” declared the president. Yet even if the Democrats somehow manage to hang on in the House of Representatives and get those fabled “two more Democratic senators,” it won’t ensure that the (limited) abortion rights protection of the 1973 court ruling would now become the law of the land. The Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House for a time under Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and now Joe Biden, and never passed a law legalizing abortion. And even if they did, the Supremes would likely knock it out.
This is so well-known that even mainstream TV newscasters
point it out. The stark reality is that voting for the
Democratic Party will not do a damn thing to restore the
right to abortion, much less win free abortion on demand,
or defend women’s rights generally. This is also true
of “women’s marches” and other forms of “militant” lobbying
of the Democrats. Under pressure from Democratic Party
activists to do something – “anything!” – in response
to the Supreme Court decision, Biden on July 8 issued an
executive order, No. 14076, “Protecting Access to
Reproductive Healthcare Services,” consisting of
“identifying potential actions,” “identifying ways to
increase outreach and education,” “promoting awareness” of
contraception, etc. In other words, a big nothingburger.
As we have written, what induced the arch-reactionary Supreme Court to grant a right to abortion in 1973 was neither arcane legal reasoning nor simply the pressure politics of street protests. It was a concession wrung from the rulers as U.S. society was in turmoil, with ghettos and barrios aflame, workers occupying auto plants, a losing war in Indochina.1 To win full abortion and reproductive rights, and just to restore the rights canceled by the conservative court, will require convulsive class struggle by millions of working and oppressed people, challenging the very foundations of capitalism – a system built on exploitation and oppression. And the oppression of women can only be overturned by a socialist revolution to replace the domestic servitude and threadbare “safety net” of decaying bourgeois society with collective institutions providing a decent life for all.
Axing Roe Is Only the Beginning
The Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization not only canceled the constitutional right to abortion, it opened the door to states enacting total bans. As various state “trigger laws” went into effect, abortion clinics began shutting down in state after state. Abortion is now banned in at least eight states, soon to be banned in four more, dependent on court decisions in five states, facing legislative and/or judicial challenges in nine states, and severely restricted in four more. It’s not only in the Deep South: of the 34 states between the Northeast and West Coast, only in four (Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado and New Mexico) are abortion rights intact. Meanwhile, the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas took aim at same-sex marriage and gender rights, which could soon be on the chopping block.
That’s only the beginning: some state laws are also targeting the “morning after”/Plan B birth control pills and FDA-approved drugs that result in medical abortions, trying to prevent women from getting them in the mail. Moreover, Texas’ SB8 law outlawing abortion after six weeks was predicated on a clause that would put enforcement in the hands of vigilantes, who would get a $10,000 reward for successfully winning a court suit to shut down a clinic. Now there is talk of bounty hunters following pregnant people seeking abortions across state lines, like slave catchers in the pre-Civil War South. Moreover, SB8 was then supplanted by an earlier law, previously ruled unconstitutional, outlawing abortion altogether. Now model legislation is being drafted by a right-wing legal group to replicate Texas’ SB8 vigilante law in other states.
Protest at Texas state capitol in Austin against SB8 law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, September 2021. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, an older law completely banning abortion went into effect.
Meanwhile, the National Right to Life Committee is preparing racketeering laws to pursue abortion providers, including for publishing how to get an abortion out of state. More extreme “abortion abolitionists,” who claim that life begins at conception, want to prosecute women who have abortions for homicide. A bill to that effect recently went through the Louisiana legislature, and although it failed to make it to a final vote, similar measures have been put forward in a dozen or so states. The push to declare “fetal personhood” could have the same effect. This is already embodied in Arizona’s abortion ban. Even under existing laws, some 1,300 women have been arrested or charged for homicide or child abuse for inducing abortion or having a miscarriage, according to National Advocates for Pregnant Women (New York Times, 1 July).
So things are looking pretty grim for anyone trying to get an abortion in about half the country. Around the U.S., women and liberals living in “blue” (or Democratic) islands in “red” (or Republican-governed) states, like Austin, Texas or Lincoln, Nebraska, are considering moving, while in “purple” states where the numbers of Democratic and Republican voters are close, often with Democratic governors and Republican-dominated legislatures (Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina), all hell could break loose in the fall. Meanwhile, people considering terminating an unwanted pregnancy are rightly worried that Google may provide their computer browsing records or geolocation information to police agencies, or potentially to anti-abortion vigilantes who are effectively deputized (Guardian, 22 May).
The New York Times article cited above referred to the Supreme Court’s abortion decision as a “nation-changing” event, and that is not incorrect. What it reflects is a coming apart of U.S. society, increasingly polarized between “red” and “blue” states, and between liberal urban and conservative rural areas, with the suburbs in play, with markedly different laws on a whole host of subjects. These “culture wars” have been going on for decades. They are also seen over gun control – where Marxists are in fundamental disagreement with the liberals, who want to have a disarmed populace, in which only the repressive forces (and the fascists) are armed – as well as over education, where we are deeply opposed to the conservative right, which wants to ban anti-racist teaching, and sharply disagree with the liberals pushing identity politics.2
A key factor in this polarization is the racial oppression that has characterized American capitalism since its colonial origins, and is deeply embedded in the fabric of U.S. society. This “systemic racism” continues to fester a century and a half after the Civil War put an end to chattel slavery and over half a century after the Civil Rights laws, which are now being steadily rolled back – not least by the reactionary Supreme Court that is canceling women’s rights. Although millions marched in the streets against racist police brutality in 2020, police continue to kill civilians at an undiminished pace. Under the Democrat Biden, police departments, far from being “defunded,” are receiving millions, including from pandemic relief funds. And as liberals falsely blame mass shootings on guns, they gloss over the fact that almost all involve deadly racism.
Various commentators have been talking about impending civil war, which is an exaggeration, but reflects widespread public perception.3 What is true is that there is sharpening polarization, mainly along bourgeois political lines. This reflects the deep crisis of U.S. imperialism, with declining living standards (real wages falling sharply in the last year, runaway inflation, looming recession); over one million people dying of COVID in the U.S. alone; Congress stormed by a racist lynch mob out to overturn the results of the 2020 election; a humiliating U.S. defeat in Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation, and more. Anger growing out of this generalized crisis of a rotting social order is diverted into reactionary channels because of the absence of working-class leadership waging a revolutionary class struggle against capitalism.
Rightist Bigots on the Warpath – Democrats No Answer
After May 2 leak of Supreme Court intention to cancel constitutional right to abortion, demonstrators called on the Democratic Party to “do something.” The Democrats appealed for votes and money. But voting for Democrats will do nothing to restore the right to abortion, or defend women’s rights generally. .
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the response of Biden, Congressional Democrats and mainstream abortion rights groups didn’t go beyond appeals for votes in the November midterm elections, and raising money – lots of it. The New York Times (25 June) summed it up: “party committees and state parties conferring on national messaging and mobilization plans”; “focus groups and polling to assess the issue”; “sprawling fund-raising efforts” by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Pro-Choice America, et al.; launching a website and tapping social media “influencers.” Meanwhile, Biden’s health and human services secretary, Xavier Becerra, declared that the administration had “no magic bullet” to restore access to abortion. Rep. James Clyburn said the Court ruling was “anticlimactic.” In short, ho hum.
With frustration growing among Democratic Party activists, administration spokesmen “said that the president’s hands are largely tied in part because of the Hyde Amendment,” which prohibits federal money being spent for abortions – i.e., for poor women. Left unsaid was that Biden was a main supporter of the Hyde Amendment when it was first passed in the 1970s, and Democrats have voted to uphold it in budget after budget ever since. Restive “progressive” Democratic legislators like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren have pushed cockeyed schemes to perform abortion in facilities on federal land, like military bases and national parks. Meanwhile, they all voted for $40 billion in arms to Ukraine to wage imperialist-backed war on Russia.
So eventually, House Democrats decided to vote on two bills, the “Women’s Health Protection Act” (H.R. 8296) and the “Ensuring Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Act” (H.R. 8297). Both were passed on July 15 in an almost straight party-line vote. The former prohibits state limits on abortion providers and the latter prohibits restrictions on interstate abortion services (like sending pills through the mail). In both cases the votes were purely symbolic, since they don’t have a chance of getting through the Senate, where the Democrats don’t have the 50 votes needed for a majority on this legislation, much less the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, in which Republicans using the Senate’s arcane rules to prevent a vote on the bills. For all their bluster, the Dems are not about to abolish the filibuster.
Beyond the fact that these bills are empty grandstanding, there is the question of what rights they would actually protect. The second bill, H.R. 8297, would nullify any prohibition of abortion services “prior to fetal viability,” defined as the point in a pregnancy in which health care providers judge there is a “reasonable likelihood of sustained fetal survival outside the uterus with or without artificial support.” This is generally considered to be at 23 weeks. After that point, the health care professional would have to attest that abortion is necessary “for the preservation of the life or health of the person who is pregnant.” That is the central standard of Roe v. Wade, which the bill cites at its outset. It implicitly accepts a central argument of the anti-abortion crusaders, that a fetus is – from conception or after a certain point – an “unborn child.”
This is a theological, anti-scientific concept, and a
dangerous one. Life begins at birth, not before. Period. Roe
explicitly endorses “the State’s interest … in
protecting prenatal life,” arguing that “as long as at least
potential life is involved, the State may assert interests
beyond the protection of the pregnant woman alone.”4
As communists, as defenders of women’s rights, we insist
that prior to birth, a fetus is a part of the pregnant
person’s body, not a separate being with rights or the
protection of the state – that is, the apparatus which with
its courts, cops and jails defends the interests of the
ruling class. Prior to birth, the decision about terminating
a pregnancy, or not, is and must be the sole decision of the
pregnant person: husbands, boyfriends, priests and pastors,
parents and the state, hands off!
But even if a Democratic Congress miraculously passed a law embodying the Roe v. Wade standards for limited protection of the right to abortion, would it stand? Under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government can only legislate certain subjects, all others being relegated to the states. Thus, most criminal laws, laws about medical procedures, education and a host of other matters are state laws, unless they can be deemed (a) to affect interstate commerce, or (b) to be covered by Bill of Rights protections, such as the 14th Amendment’s clauses on due process and equal protection. The Civil Rights laws of the mid-1960s, for example, were upheld by an earlier Supreme Court on the grounds that segregated lunch counters, serving hamburgers, had to do with interstate commerce. Rightist advocates of “states’ rights” always rejected such laws.
The justification for a limited right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, and subsequently in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), based on the Fourteenth Amendment due process clause, was emphatically rejected by the majority opinion written by Samuel Alito in the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling. Alito also rejected a broad 14th Amendment right to privacy not found in the Constitution, and he dismissed any justification of a right to abortion based on the Amendment’s equal protection clause, even though neither Roe nor Casey used this argument. So any law to enact a right to abortion based on the 14th Amendment is sure to be struck down by the current Court. As for the commerce clause as the basis for such a law, since the 1990s the conservative Supreme Court has been knocking down statutes based on a broad interpretation of that clause.
Anticipating the decision in Dobbs, the Washington Post (4 May) headlined an article, “Can Congress resurrect Roe if it’s overturned? Well, it could try.” It added in a subhead: “The Supreme Court might well strike that down, too.” It also noted: “If the Supreme Court rules that Congress has the power to protect abortion through legislation, Congress also would have the power to prohibit abortion through legislation.” House Republicans are already drafting such a bill, which could be enacted the next time they have a majority, which could come as soon as the November elections. An article in the New Yorker (28 June), “How the Supreme Court Could Approach Federal Laws Upholding – or Banning – Abortion,” underlined that this Court could well use the theory of “fetal personhood” to outlaw abortion nationwide, even in “blue” states.5
The present Supreme Court majority, with hardline rightists at the wheel, is ideologically driven, determined to tear down countless judicial precedents and undo decades of federal legislation. Racists see it as a bulwark against an encroaching nonwhite majority. Proposals to pack the Court by adding more members, impeach justices for prevaricating in confirmation hearings, institute term limits or otherwise reform this stronghold of reaction are a pipedream. Congressional Democrats, particularly so-called “progressives,” can try to counter this judicial wrecking ball, but they will fail, not least because of deep-seated contradictions in their own party. “Abort the court?” Who will do it? In order to overthrow the tyranny of this judicial cabal we call to abolish the Supreme Court through workers revolution.
Opportunist Left Auxiliaries of the Democrats
As noted above, many of the initial protests against the Supreme Court canceling Roe v. Wade with its limited constitutional right to abortion were called by left groups and foundation-funded NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Establishment “reproductive rights” organizations such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America – which was so concerned about projecting a “moderate” image that it dropped the word abortion from its name – are focused on winning votes for “pro-choice” (Democratic) candidates from suburban moms, particularly Republicans repulsed by the misogynist Trump. The role of the opportunist left, on the other hand, is to harness the energy of younger abortion-rights demonstrators whom they exhort to “take to the streets” to pressure the Democrats to act. It’s a classic case of what in the ad business is called segmented marketing.
One of the left groups that prominently called protests over the Supreme Court action is the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). The PSL’s June 30 statement called to “demand that Biden take immediate emergency action” to “ensure abortion access in all 50 states.” This call on Biden – who in 1973 said Roe v. Wade went “too far,” who in 1976 was the main proponent in Congress of the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment, who opposed abortion until he launched his first presidential campaign in 2007 – to use executive powers to defend abortion rights can only create illusions in the Democratic Party. But for the PSL, it’s par for the course. Last year, as Biden was vituperating against “Cuba’s authoritarian regime,” the PSL sponsored a New York Times ad (23 July 2021) calling on him to “return to the Obama opening” of relations with Cuba.
The PSL statement concludes, “If Biden refuses to act, he will have shown the true face of the Democratic Party, which has shamelessly used abortion as a political talking point to win elections while actually throwing abortion rights under the bus....” So after calling on people to “hit the streets” to get Biden and the Democrats to act, the PSL admits it won’t happen. This kind of reformist “tactic” only breeds cynicism. Meanwhile, it is supporting a local initiative, the GRACE Act in Austin, Texas, which it claims “partially decriminalizes abortion.” The main call of this act is for police to make abortion investigation “the lowest priority for enforcement” – hardly “decriminalization.” So the PSL, which in 2020 called to “defund” or even “abolish” the police, today calls on the cops to “deprioritize” abortion prosecutions! In both cases it was building illusions in the capitalist state.
Another left group that called abortion rights protests around the country is Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights and its parent group, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which also goes by the Internet handle of revcom. Rise Up has been denounced as a “Communist ‘cult’” and a “pyramid scheme” to raise money by the Daily Beast (11 July), the liberal internet tabloid website, and in a statement by a coalition of 23 abortion rights groups. Genuine communists resolutely oppose red-baiting, including when it is directed at groups with which we have enormous differences, like the RCP. The smear article accuses Rise Up of “duping well-meaning abortion supporters,” while the statement reeks of anti-communist identity politics. That the RCP certainly has a personality cult around its guru Bob Avakian is no revelation, but it is a parody of communism. It also has a vile homophobic past. As for being a pyramid scheme, the complaint of the groups that have denounced it is that they want the cash.
Rise Up does have a valid point against its liberal/left McCarthyite detractors: it could hardly “hijack the abortion movement” since it was out protesting against the pending overturn of Roe v. Wade when most other abortion rights groups had given up the ghost and were raising funds for “post-Roe America.” What Rise Up doesn’t accuse its accusers of is acting as a pressure group on the Democratic Party. Why not? Because the RCP/Rise Up does the same thing. Their June 28 statement following the Supreme Court decision headlines: “Into the Streets to Demand: The Federal Government Must Restore NATIONWIDE LEGAL ABORTION NOW!” As if. To pretend that if there is enough protest in the streets, the imperialist Democrats in D.C. could be pressured into restoring abortion rights – that is duping abortion rights protesters, big time.
We denounce the RCP in particular for the fact that, in addition to peddling the insipid anti-Marxist thought of “Chairman Bob,” it and its endless front groups (Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, Refuse Fascism, World Can’t Wait, etc.) all seek to organize militant liberalism and funnel protest into the Democratic Party. In a video reproduced in the Daily Beast article (and promoted by the RCP), Rise Up spokeswomen say that in the primaries, “we need to get as many people to the polls as possible to vote for more progressive Democrats,” to kick out the oldsters and bring in younger ones, and then in the midterms to vote to “make sure that these more progressive Democrats get into office.” Can’t be clearer than that – Rise Up is shilling for the Democrats.
A third grouping that initiated protests following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade is a coalition between Left Voice (LV, affiliated internationally with the Trotskyist Fraction [FT]) and Socialist Alternative (SAlt, part of International Socialist Alternative). At the June 24 New York City march they called, LV and SAlt speakers put on a left face, criticizing the Democrats. But their main thrust was getting people into the streets. With what program? SAlt is utterly clear. On July 1, it reports, “Boston Socialist Alternative led a rally inside the federal building demanding that Biden and the Democrats stand up and fight for abortion rights.” It demanded that Biden “pull no punches” and force Congress to repeal the Hyde Amendment, “tax the billionaires,” provide “Medicare for All,” etc.
Get Biden, who opposed Roe v. Wade, who pushed for the Hyde Amendment, who opposed calls to tax billionaires and Medicare for all, to champion the cause of abortion rights (which he opposed for decades)?! And to do so “alongside Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi”!! This is not just what Marx and Engels called “parliamentary cretinism,” it is backhanded political support for the ruling capitalist party of the world’s hegemonic imperialist superpower. But it’s no surprise from SAlt, many of whose members and its Seattle city councilor Kshama Sawant, have joined the Democratic (Party) Socialists of America (DSA). Plus it won’t work. On June 23, the Biden White House let it be known that it was nominating an anti-abortion Republican as a federal judge in Kentucky (later withdrawn for lack of Republican support).
For its part, Left Voice has assumed a verbally more leftist posture, but as the left flank of a “mass movement” including bourgeois feminists. The Left Voice (25 June) account of the New York march called by the leftist coalition said they were united in calling for an “independent mass movement in the streets” that “has no faith in the empty promises offered by the Democratic Party or any capitalist party to protect abortion rights.” Yet the call for the march by 30 left, labor and abortion rights groups made no mention of the Democrats or their nefarious role. The same call said it was organizing under the banner “for a federal law for free, safe, legal abortion on demand and without apology.” But who would pass such a law? Like others, this coalition was organized as an attempt to pressure the Democrats, a form of lobbying in the streets.
At that march, LV issued a call for the formation of Bread and Roses, billed as a “socialist feminist” organization, part of an international network linked to the FT. A subsequent article appealing to join Bread and Roses (Left Voice, 9 July) proclaimed “We Need Socialist Feminism.” It called for “an independent movement that does not give one iota of political support to the Democratic Party.” But having “no faith in the empty promises” of the Democrats, or even giving no formal political support to it, is not organizing for women’s liberation against the Democratic Party of racist cop terror, imperialist war and burying women’s rights. LV calls to “organize a mass movement like the one in Argentina,” which, as we have pointed out, was a movement led by the bourgeois Peronists, which won a more limited right to abortion than the Mississippi law that was just approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.6
What is common here is that opportunist leftists seek to latch on to an existing, or what they see as a potential, “mass movement,” taking up a position slightly to the left of the mainstream, posing a critic of the more “moderate” leadership and simultaneously being “best builders” of that movement. It could be pro-abortion, anti-gun, whatever, the formula is the same. The result is that the opportunists’ program is ultimately determined by the bourgeois liberals or “progressives.” Their calculation is that when mainstream leaders “sell out,” the masses will be radicalized and flock to the “left” wing of the movement. But more usually the masses become demoralized, while the opportunists act as a perennial left tail of a section of the bourgeoisie. This formula may or may not bring short-term success in numbers, but it’s no way to advance the struggle to make a revolution.
For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution
Internationalist contingent in NYC protest over Supreme Court anti-abortion ruling. While pseudo-socialists seek to pressure Democratic Party, the IG declares that this bourgeois party is an enemy of women's rights, and calls for a revolutionary workers party.
Proponents of the revolutionary politics of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky have a counterposed approach. Our watchword is to “speak the truth to the masses, no matter how bitter” (from the Transitional Program of the Fourth International). The truth is that the liberation of women from age-old oppression cannot be achieved under capitalism, while even simple democratic goals like free abortion on demand, will not be secured under bourgeois rule.7 As was just demonstrated by the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the cancellation of a half-century-old partial right to abortion, even the most limited advances can be – and will be – reversed as the decaying capitalist system rips up past gains, destroying social programs and driving down the living standards of the mass of working people and the poor.
Revolutionary Marxists fight intransigently for the rights, and full liberation, of women and all the oppressed. This struggle means forthrightly telling the truth that for all the talk of “socialist feminism,” feminism is a bourgeois ideology, posing a sectoral struggle along gender lines that keeps the oppressed within the framework of capitalist politics. For years, the main spokeswoman for “socialist feminism” in the U.S. has been Barbara Ehrenreich, co-chair of the DSA, deeply embedded in the Democratic Party. We are Marxists, not feminists – we fight for women’s liberation through socialist revolution. We combat anti-woman, anti-gay and transphobic bigotry with united class struggle by working people of every gender. Rather than pressuring the Democrats, we call to break with all capitalist parties and to build a revolutionary workers party. On June 24, the Internationalist Group, Revolutionary Internationalist Youth and our fraternal allies marched under that banner.
We have stressed that the anti-abortion crusade is deeply racist. The fight over abortion rights and gay and trans rights is already a flashpoint for emboldened ultra-rightists and fascists, who now feel that the capitalist state has their back. On June 11, more than 30 members of the fascist Patriot Front were arrested in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho as they arrived to bust up a Pride event. The celebration in a park was also beset by a Panhandle Patriots biker club carrying semi-automatic rifles and a Christian fundamentalist “prayer walk.” On July 2, the same white-supremacist Patriot Front marched in uniform through downtown Boston with its flag (a stars-and-stripes with an ax symbol borrowed from Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s fascist party). On July 9, the fascist Proud Boys massed near an abortion clinic in Santa Monica, California.
For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution
Internationalist Group and UCLA Internationalist Club demonstrated in Los Angeles on June 24 denouncing Supreme Court striking down right to abortion. ¡Aborto libre y gratuito! ¡Liberación de la mujer mediante la revolución socialista!
The left and workers movement should mobilize to squelch and disperse such provocations by racist, Nazi and other ultra-rightists who would go after abortion clinics, particularly in vulnerable areas, as well as seeking to terrorize gay and transgender activists and anti-racist protesters. In Portland, Oregon, Painters Local 10 took the lead in combatting racist attacks which escalated after the November 2016 election of Donald Trump. Its resolution, introduced by supporters of Class Struggle Workers – Portland, called for labor to join in “mobilizing against the clear and present danger that the KKK and other racist organizations’ provocations pose to us all.”8 Similar resolutions were subsequently passed by seven Portland-area unions, laying the basis for a 300-strong Portland Labor Against Fascism mobilization in June 2017.
The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade did not end the battle over abortion, it escalated it. There will be a push to write the right to abortion into state constitutions, energized by the stunning August 2 victory of abortion supporters in conservative Kansas, who voted down an amendment that would have eliminated that constitutional right. Supporters of women’s rights must insist that the right to abortion be absolute, with no gestational limits. In any case, these are preliminary battles. As we have emphasized, the fight over reproduction rights is only part of the overall issue of the oppression of women in class society. This can only be overcome with the establishment of socialized institutions to replace the domestic slavery of the bourgeois family, on the road to a genuinely communist, classless society.
That will take a revolution, and to get there the key task before us is to forge a workers party on the Bolshevik program of Lenin and Trotsky, a “tribune of the people” defending all the oppressed, to lead that struggle for liberation. ■
Racism and the Deadly
Internationalist contingent of IG, RIY, Trabajadores Internacionales Clasistas, Class Struggle Education Workers and Internationalist Clubs at the City University of New York among the tens of thousands who protested on June 24 in NYC against the Supreme Court anti-abortion decision.
Numerous polls have consistently shown for more than four decades that a solid majority of the U.S. population was against overturning Roe v. Wade.9 Recently, almost two-thirds (63%) opposed the Supreme Court decision that did just that.10 Today, record-high numbers say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (61% in one poll),11 with a majority identifying as “pro-choice” and (for the first time ever) declaring abortion morally acceptable.12 In Texas, a 2022 poll reported that 37% agree that “By law, a woman should always be able to obtain an abortion as a matter of personal choice.”13 At the same time, a substantial minority nationwide (37%) hold that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases and consider it morally wrong. But beyond those two poles, there are conflicting views on when abortion would be justified.
For all the complexity of public opinion, the fact is that the highest U.S. court just abolished a constitutional right strongly supported by a majority of the population. So much for “American democracy”! The justices in their black robes are able to get away with this criminal action because of the reactionary features of the U.S. Constitution, designed to curb supposed “excesses of democracy” and a “tyranny of the majority.” In addition to unelected courts with the power to overrule legislative and executive action, these provisions include a Senate designed to rein in the more representative House, and voting for the president by an Electoral College, so that two of the last four presidents were “elected” despite losing the popular vote. In addition, restraints on majority rule are reinforced by a right-wing minority mobilized by powerful capitalist forces.
This is key to the continuing battle over abortion rights for pregnant people in the United States. Today, abortion is a dividing line between Democrats and Republicans, and between liberals and conservatives. Yet it was not always so. In 1967, the right-wing Republican then-governor of California Ronald Reagan signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the country, while future Republican president George H.W. Bush secured the first federal funding for birth control. In 1969, Republican president Richard Nixon, working with Bush, enacted the Title X family planning program that is a major source of funds for Planned Parenthood. In 1970 Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller signed New York’s law decriminalizing abortion, and in 1973 he vetoed a repeal of that law by the Democrat-controlled state legislature.14
But in 1972, Nixon advisors Kevin Phillips and the fascistic Pat Buchanan devised a reelection strategy focusing on winning over formerly Democratic constituencies of Southern segregationists and Northern Catholics.15 This realigned national politics up to the present. In the 1980s, it led to the consolidation of a “religious right,” spurred not by religious or moral convictions, but by racism … and money. Evangelical author Randall Balmer recounts how at a 1990 closed-door conference, the top leaders declared that “abortion had nothing whatsoever to do with the emergence of the religious right.” Instead, they were spurred to action by the denial of tax-exempt status to whites-only “Christian academies.” It was not Roe v. Wade that motivated them but Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision mandating desegregation of public schools.16
For several decades, the fight over women’s reproductive rights was pitched in religious terms, as abortion defenders chanted “Get your rosaries off my ovaries” (against Catholic anti-abortion bigots), and later, “Get your theology off my biology” (to include evangelical-led “god squads” besieging abortion clinics in the South). But anti-abortion forces have been weakened by the sharp decline in the proportion of white evangelical Protestants (falling from 23% of the U.S. population in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020)17 and by the fact that today a clear majority of Catholics (56%) support the right of abortion in numbers similar to mainline Protestant whites (60%).18 Thus while they now have the backing of the Supreme Court, the ranks of hard-core opponents of abortion are increasingly reduced to religious fanatics and outright racists worried that they could soon be outnumbered.
Thus the Court’s autocratic cancellation of the right to abortion could not only lead to further attacks on reproductive rights as well as rulings against gay and transgender rights, it may well spark violent assaults by racist and fascist forces on everything from school curriculums to protests against police brutality. Just as the not-guilty verdict in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse for the teenage vigilante’s murder of antiracist protesters was taken by ultra-rightists as declaring open season on “antifa,” there may be a resurgence of deadly attacks on abortion providers combined with state repression. In 2009, heroic abortion doctor George Tiller was gunned down at his church in Wichita, Kansas. This came after his clinic was bombed in 1986, in 1993 he was shot in both arms, and in 2009 he was put on trial for performing late-term abortions. He was found innocent of all charges, but three months later he was murdered.19
This deadly war on abortion rights has been going on ever since Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional right, and with the overturning of Roe it will now likely escalate. Courageous Indiana doctor and abortion rights advocate Caitlin Bernard, who four days after the Supreme Court decision performed an abortion on a ten-year-old rape victim from Ohio, where following the Court ruling abortion is now illegal, is receiving hate messages while being investigated by the state attorney general.20 Meanwhile, Colorado abortion doctor Warren Hern (a close friend of Dr. Tiller) began sleeping with a rifle by his bed after an attack in 1974; had rocks thrown through the window of his home/office and bullets shot through his clinic window in the 1980s; started wearing a bulletproof vest to work in 1993, and today continues to perform late-term abortions, while drawing the shades at night, because “That’s how they kill doctors.”21
We salute these valiant fighters for women’s rights, and warn that they and the countless others who bravely provide this vital service for those who seek to end an unwanted pregnancy face growing danger. A recent (May 19) report by the National Abortion Federation listed 11 murders, 25 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 196 arson attacks among 15,000 violent attacks on abortion providers and over 1 million disruptions of abortion services in the U.S. since 1977. And the rate is increasing: there were more death threats in 2020-21 (382) than in the entire preceding decade. This underscores the urgency of our call to “Defeat Racist Abortion Bans with Class-Struggle Action” (The Internationalist No. 56, May-June 2019). In particular, abortion clinics bordering states where abortion has been banned may be particularly targeted by vigilantes, bounty hunters, racists and fascists. We call for workers defense of abortion clinics by all necessary means. ■
- 1. See “The Struggle for Full Abortion Rights, From Latin America to the U.S.,” The Internationalist No. 66, January-April 2022.
- 2. As explained in the founding statement of the Revolutionary Internationalist Youth: “This form of bourgeois ideology feigns a fight against oppression through ‘check-your-privilege’ liberal idealism and is systematically imbued among university students, including many of those who see themselves as radical. It is used to deepen the wedge between different sectors of the workers and oppressed, claiming to unite those who share a sectorally defined identity, including members of the exploiting class” (Revolution No. 14, January 2018)
- 3. A recent study by the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, reported that in a May 2022 nationwide opinion survey, carried out following mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, “Half (50.1%) agreed that ‘in the next few years, there will be civil war in the United States’” (medRxiv.org, 19 July).
- 4. Roe held that “State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” The Dobbs ruling that eliminated the limited constitutional right to abortion seized upon Roe’s reference to “fetal life” as a justification to deny that abortion could be covered by the 14th Amendment’s protection of “liberty.”
- 5. In Dobbs, the Court found that “the State’s interest” in “protecting the life” of what the Mississippi law termed an “unborn human being” was a “rational basis” for its law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. If it is “rational” for the state of Mississippi to call a fetus a human being, the same could be true for a Congressional abortion ban. And for a Supreme Court that upheld, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the fiction of “corporate personhood,” proclaiming “fetal personhood” is not much of a stretch. Especially since Citizens United unleashed a flood of corporate contributions to “pro-life” – and “pro-business” – conservative candidates.
- 6. See our article, “The Struggle for Full Abortion Rights, From Latin America to the U.S.,” cited above.
- 7. The countries that presently have free abortion on demand are China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam – all of them bureaucratically deformed workers states, based on the overthrow of capitalist rule.
- 8. “Portland Union Calls to Mobilize Against the Ku Klux Klan and Other Racist Forces,” The Internationalist No. 46, January-February 2017.
- 9. Gallup, “In Depth: Abortion” (May 2022).
- 10. CNN/Social Science Research Council poll (28 July 2022).
- 11. Pew Research, “America’s Abortion Quandary” (6 May 2022).
- 12. Interestingly, a third of the respondents in the Pew polls held that abortion was not morally acceptable, but should be legal.
- 13. University of Texas at Austin, The Texas Politics Project, Availability of Abortion (April 2022).
- 14. The Nixon-appointed Rockefeller Commission Report, Population and the American Future (1972), stated: “The majority of the Commission believes that women should be free to determine their own fertility, that the matter of abortion should be left to the conscience of the individual concerned, in consultation with her physician, and that states should be encouraged to enact affirmative statutes creating a clear and positive framework for the practice of abortion on request.” It also called for private insurance and state aid to support abortion services. But that was before right-wing Republicans did a full 180 on abortion.
- 15. This was spelled out in Phillips’ 1969 book, The Emerging Republican Majority. For details and documents of this political shift, see Linda Greenhouse and Reva Siegel, Before Roe v. Wade, 2d. edition (2012). Also, “How abortion became a partisan issue in America,” Vox, 10 April 2019.
- 16. See Balmer, Bad Faith: Race and the Rise of the Religious Right (2021). The leaders present at the confab included Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation and architect of the religious right; Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition; Ed Dobson, a top operative of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority; direct mail mogul Richard Viguerie and other heavy hitters of the Republican right wing. Balmer documents how the forces opposed to the Internal Revenue Service’s action making donations to segregated schools taxable realized that open defense of racial segregation would not bring out voters and instead sought “an emotionally charged issue to stir people up,” as the founder of the National Christian Action Coalition put it. They first tried anti-gay bigotry with Anita Bryant’s Save Our Children crusade, which the Florida “orange juice queen” launched in 1977. But when that flopped, they latched onto the abortion issue following the 1978 midterms in which “pro-life” candidates swept Minnesota elections, breaking the hold of the liberal Democratic Farmer-Labor Party.
- 17. Religion News Service, 8 July 2021.
- 18. Pew Research Center, “Public Opinion on Abortion” (17 May 2022).
- 19. See our article, “Assassination of Courageous Doctor in Wichita: War on Abortion Rights Escalates,” The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009.
- 20. “Doctor in Indiana Faces Risks as Voice for Abortion Rights,” New York Times, 29 July.
- 21. “As a med student, he saw women nearly die from illegal abortions. At 83, he sees no end to his work,” Los Angeles Times, 10 March.