June 2009   

Obama/Democrats’ Conciliation Emboldens Reactionaries

Assassination of Courageous Doctor in Wichita:
War on Abortion Rights Escalates

Truck targeting Dr. George Tiller parked outside his Wichita clinic, two days after his assassination.

(Photo: Steve Hebert/Atlas Press for The New York Times)

Mobilize to Defend the Clinics!
Abolish All Restrictions – For Free Abortion on Demand!

The vile murder of the courageous abortion doctor George Tiller at his church in Wichita, Kansas was not the deranged act of a lone gunman. This heinous crime marks an escalation of the war on women’s right to abortion in this country. The constitutional protection hangs by a thread – a single vote in the Supreme Court. The “god squads” are in a frenzy, harassing women patients and abortion providers at the clinics. The reaction of the bourgeois feminists has been to look to the Democratic Party and the government of Barack Obama in the White House. Yet the Democrats are not allies but enemies of women’s rights. Obama opposes the late-term abortions that Dr. Tiller provided while seeking “common ground” with the Bible-thumping bigots who harbor the abortion doctor killers. And the police, from local cops to the FBI, give a free pass to the assassins, whom they know well.

Dr. George Tiller, who provided medical services to women in need of abortion for 35 years, was hounded by the reactionary bigots for decades. In 1986 his clinic was bombed, in 1993 he was shot in both arms by a fanatical opponent of abortion. That year Operation Rescue, the largest organizer of anti-abortion mobs, moved its national headquarters to Wichita to target Tiller; more than 2,000 people were arrested as they besieged his clinic that summer. They then started stalking clinic employees. Tiller also faced an endless barrage of state legal actions, grand jury probes, regulatory and professional misconduct complaints, as opponents used any ploy to put his clinic out of business. After years of “investigation,” the Kansas attorney general charged him with improper actions in 19 cases of late-term abortions; this past March, a jury took barely 45 minutes of deliberation to find him innocent on all of these trumped-up counts.

The assassin, Scott Roeder, was no stranger to the anti-abortion protests, or to the police. A 2007 posting by a Scott Roeder on the Operation Rescue web site stated: “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped...” (Washington Post, 2 June). The local office of the FBI was well aware of Roeder’s activities, having warned him in 2000 about gluing shut the doors of a Kansas City clinic, a federal crime. On May 23, he was seen on a security camera gluing the doors at the same clinic, and he was chased away by a clinic worker on May 29, the day before the murder. The FBI was informed about both instances but said it could do nothing until a federal grand jury was convened. Police around the country proclaim “zero tolerance” of petty crimes, arresting people on the slightest violation, yet here they did nothing about blatant violations of federal law as the “perp” went from “vandalism” to murder.

No less important in setting the climate in which religious nuts and right-wing “right-to-lifers” spawn assassination are the bourgeois politicians. For the eight years of the George Bush regime, evangelical Christians and other abortion opponents concentrated on manipulating the Republican Party and the levers of state power. With the changing of the guard in Washington and the dominance of the Democrats, some of the reactionary fringe have grown frantic. From Texas to Notre Dame they have been showing up at presidential events with their grotesque depictions of fetuses and signs proclaiming Obama a “baby killer,” “Anti-Christ” and “terrorist.” The White House response has been feel-good talk about “civility” and finding “common ground”.” This conciliation only emboldens bloodthirsty anti-abortionists, from right-wing instigators like Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly to “pro-life” killers who pull the trigger.

In his Notre Dame University commencement address, Obama repeated over and over the mantra about seeking “common ground” with these antediluvian reactionaries who want to turn women into incubators, deny them medical services and persecute those who provide this care. Obama’s rhetoric is not empty. He called to “work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortion” and to “draft a sensible conscience clause,” to absolve doctors for violating the Hippocratic Oath by refusing to perform abortions. Obama has said that he is personally opposed to abortion, and last July, he told the “progressive Christian” magazine Relevant that as long as there is a narrow medical exception for the woman’s health, “I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.” He is offering up the fundamental democratic right of woman to control their own bodies on the altar of his quest for a political bloc with religious reaction. To hell with that – there can be no common ground with these bigots, they must be defeated!

Obama took over this repulsive appeal from Hillary Clinton, who in 2005 prepared her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination by declaring, in a speech on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, that she was looking for “common ground” with abortion opponents on the basis that the “tragic choice” of abortion “does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.” This, in turn, was a continuation of Bill Clinton’s 1992 and ’96 presidential campaign slogan that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.” For more than a decade and a half, these capitalist politicians have been trying to unite with the ultra-right, or at least take the wind out of their sales, by cynically sacrificing women. Although bourgeois feminists fervently campaigned for them, the Clintons, Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole have joined in the attack on women’s rights.

All the talk about abortion as a “tragic choice” or as Obama put it, a “heart-wrenching decision,” are nothing but religious claptrap and attempts to make women feel guilty about trying to control their own lives by ending an unwanted pregnancy. What is tragic is forcing women to give birth against their will, and condemning more than 100,000 desperate women to death every year due to the consequences of botched abortions, often self-induced because they can’t find a doctor to do it.  Abortion is a simple medical procedure and potentially one of the safest. A fetus is not an “unborn child,” it is a part of a woman’s body until birth. This is as true in the third trimester as earlier. There is no such thing as a “partial-birth abortion” – this is a propaganda term by those who want to label abortion infanticide  (“baby killing”). A fetus has no rights, the woman does – or should have. And the fight to defend those rights must be waged against all the capitalist parties and politicians, who in one way or another, to one degree or another, chain women to the family.

Dr. George Tiller was murdered because he defended the rights of women and stood by those who decided they had to end pregnancy in the face of all the abuse heaped on them and the death threats against him. His motto was “Trust Women.” So did Dr. David Gunn, shot to death outside his Pensacola, Florida abortion clinic in 1993, as was Dr. John Britton at another Pensacola clinic the next year; Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols, clinic workers gunned down in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1994; and Buffalo abortion doctor Barnett Slepian, killed in his kitchen in 1998. The politicians did not rush to defend the doctors whose names and addresses were published on hit-lists on the Internet, to be crossed off when they were murdered. None were in evidence at Dr. Tiller’s funeral. Instead, the Democrats want to find “common ground” with a “movement” led by fascistic elements like Randall Terry, who orchestrated the ’90s Wichita protests and the recent protests against Obama at Notre Dame.

Terry started out working for Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt, the godfather of the death squads in that country. While various anti-abortion leaders issued hypocritical statements distancing themselves from the killing of George Tiller, Terry called the courageous doctor a “mass murderer” who deserved “execution.” It was striking, then, that various “mainstream” women’s organizations that issued statements lamenting Dr. Tiller’s death echoed the same conciliatory theme as Obama. For years, these groups have desperately sought respectability by avoiding a forthright defense of abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America, which changed its name to eliminate the “A-word,” issued a “call on opponents of a woman’s right to choose to condemn this action completely and absolutely.” Planned Parenthood quoted Obama’s words, “imploring” the anti-abortion forces to drop the “hateful rhetoric”; it couldn’t even bring itself to mention abortion at all.

The bourgeois feminists’ calls for the “full weight of the law” to be brought to bear against anti-abortion violence show deadly illusions in the capitalist state. The FBI has known of Tiller’s assassin, Roeder, for years, and at most gave him a “heads up” tip not to get caught violating the clinic access law. Likewise they had been keeping tabs on Paul Hill, who shot Dr. Britton in Pensacola. Dr. Slepian in Buffalo had been targeted by Operation Rescue, and among the 1993 besiegers outside his home was James Kopp, shown on tape making death threats against the doctor, whom he slew a year later. The blind faith of the “pro-choice” organizers in the police brings to mind the calls in the early 1960s on President John Kennedy to send the FBI to protect civil rights marchers. The feds did intervene, but they were so deeply tied to the KKK lynchers that their informants took part in church bombings. No matter who sits in the White House, it’s a given that the forces of bourgeois repression will be on the side of bourgeois reaction.

As we have stated:

“The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International stand for abortion that is legal, safe, free, and on demand. That is, if a woman, of whatever age, wants an abortion to prevent an unwanted pregnancy, then she has the right to have it. No politician, priest or police, or husband or boyfriend or parent or anyone else, should be able to force her to give birth. Period, end of story. Rather than looking to the state to protect abortion providers and their patients, we call for class-struggle defense of the clinics against the anti-abortion ‘god squad’ thugs. We put forward this program in the United States, in Mexico, Brazil, Algeria and throughout the world as part of our program for women’s liberation through socialist revolution.”

–“Defeat the Anti-Abortion Crusade,” The Internationalist No. 23, April-May 2006

Obama seeks to conciliate the anti-abortion crusaders in the name of “overcoming” the “culture wars” that have rent the U.S. for decades. “Culture wars are so ’90s,” he said in a 2007 speech to Planned Parenthood. And ’80s, and ’70s, and ’60s, he might have added. Again, behind the political posture are concrete acts. Obama the candidate told PP “the first thing I’d do as president” would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which in effect codifies Roe v. Wade. Yet Obama the president says the bill is “not my highest legislative priority” (New York Times, 15 May). The “culture wars” are not some ethereal dispute between conservatives and liberals over “values.” What they is really about is the reactionary drive to undo the limited gains of the civil rights movement, of women’s rights, of gay rights and democratic rights in general in order to return to the regimented social reaction of the Cold War.

These rights were won because of tumultuous social struggles, linked to the fact that the U.S. was losing an imperialist war. The tenuous and limited right to abortion embodied in the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision was partly in response to a growing women’s movement, but more fundamentally due to a general awareness of the ruling class that it could not simply clamp down on social unrest. In the same period, the death penalty was temporarily set aside. On the other hand, the rollback of women’s rights has gone hand in hand with attacks on blacks’ rights to vote; with mass round-ups of tens of thousands of immigrants thrown into concentration camps and deported even though they committed no crime; with attacks on the unions and workers’ rights; and with imperialist war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans, while police state repressive measures like the PATRIOT U.S.A. law.

Thus the fight to defend abortion rights must be part of a broad struggle to defend the exploited and oppressed against the “bipartisan” war being waged against them and their rights by both major capitalist parties. Today, the constitutional protection of abortion rights could be reversed with a single vote on the Supreme Court. Anti-abortion conservatives assume and “pro-choice” liberals fervently hope that Obama’s nominee, Judge  Sonia Sotomayor will be a consistent supporter of Roe v. Wade. But there is no evidence of that, and if she reflects Obama’s policy that would lead to decisions severely restricting the threatened right to abortion. Even today, when it is still legal, the Guttmacher Institute reports that no abortion services are available in 87 percent of U.S. counties.

We had wanted to present a map showing this, but cannot because many medical facilities who provide abortion fear that if this becomes known, they will be subjected to the same persecution as Dr. Tiller. Even the information that abortion is available in a particular county could lead these vigilantes to locate the facilities and track down the personnel. In short: abortion in much of the United States today is semi-clandestine. And now for women seeking third-trimester abortions, it has become almost unavailable. Less than one percent of all abortions are performed after 21 weeks, and these cases are almost always connected with deep problems: severe deformities of the fetus, very young teenagers who discover late that they are pregnant, etc. Dr. Tiller was one of only three doctors in the entire U.S. who publicly provided late-term abortions. One of the remaining two, Dr. Warren Hern of Boulder, Colorado has been the subject of death threats for years. He remarked on Dr. Tiller’s death:

“This is the result of 35 years of relentless and merciless anti-abortion harassment, violence and intimidation, hate speech and violent rhetoric, and this is the absolutely predictable consequence of that.... Clearly, the anti-abortion people will stop at nothing, including assassination, to impose their will on other people.... Dr. Tiller’s ‘crime’ was that he helped women.... We don’t have to invade other countries to find the terrorists. They’re here killing doctors who do abortions.”

Opponents of abortion got what they wanted with the assassination of George Tiller. He is dead, his clinic has been permanently closed, women who require the services he provided have almost nowhere to turn. Wherever possible, defenders of abortion should mobilize to defend clinics under siege. To defeat the forces of reaction that would deny women the fundamental right to control their own bodies requires a fight against all forms of social oppression and the system of exploitation that gives rise to them. Not Democrats or Republicans but a revolutionary workers party will fight to defend women’s rights, as in the early Soviet republic, led by Lenin and Trotsky, where for the first time in history the right to abortion was made real.  ■ 

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