In recent years, women’s rights have come under greater attack by politicians, especially the right wing of the Republican Party. These politicians take aim at rights that women have won in the past. Their goal is to channel the anger and insecurity felt by workers struggling to survive in an economy that only serves the interests of corporations, and redirect it to so-called moral issues like abortion.
The Right to Abortion – A Necessity
There are no guarantees for women who get pregnant – no guarantee they will have support in raising a child, that they will have a job that pays for a child, that they will become pregnant when they are ready or capable of providing these things. And there is no reason a woman should become a mother before it is her own free choice to do so. Abortion has always been the last resort of women to control pregnancies, whether legal or not. That is why abortion is a necessity, which should be safe and available to all women.
The Attack on Abortion
Before the 1973 Roe V. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, abortions were illegal in two-thirds of the states and still faced huge restrictions. Wealthy women could afford to pay for illegal but medically safe abortions. But poor women’s only options were dangerous and often deadly home remedies and unsafe procedures.
But in 1973, the growing women’s movement won the right to abortion, and between private healthcare coverage, and the Medicaid coverage available to low-income people, nearly all women had access to abortion. But in 1977, just four years later, Congress passed the Hyde amendment, and it was signed into law by Democratic Party President, Jimmy Carter. The Hyde amendment banned using federal funds in Medicaid programs for abortion in cases that don’t involve rape or incest. This effectively denied poor women the right to choose to have an abortion.
Since the passing of the Hyde amendment, every congress and every president has continued to renew it. Democrat, Bill Clinton campaigned on the promise to repeal the amendment if elected. But as soon as he was in office, with Democrats having a majority in both houses of Congress, he betrayed that promise. Since then, there has been a continuous attempt to chip away at women’s access to legal abortions.
These attacks have become more extreme since 2010 when the so-called Tea Party emerged, and the Republican Party won control of Congress and the legislature in many states. In 2011, state legislatures passed 92 new provisions limiting access to reproductive health care. Eight different states passed laws requiring women to undergo a host of degrading interrogations before being able to receive an abortion. Other state legislatures passed laws which require women to listen to anti-abortion counseling, watch ultrasound videos of their unborn children, or other humiliating acts before being allowed to get an abortion. The State of Texas passed a law requiring women seeking abortion to undergo a “transvaginal ultrasound,” a painful and invasive procedure with no medical purpose in cases of unwanted pregnancy. Several other states have been trying to pass similar bills.
Attacks Take Their Toll
Even though about 70 percent of the population support a woman’s right to have an abortion, these attacks continue. Legal restrictions and attacks on abortion clinics have made it nearly impossible for many of them to operate. Doctors who perform abortions are threatened with lawsuits, harassment, bombings and arson. Since 1993, right-wing anti-abortion fundamentalists have killed at least eight people – four doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard, and a clinic escort. Today, an increasing number of hospitals refuse to admit abortion patients, even when women’s lives are at risk. Women in many states have to travel up to 500 miles to the nearest clinic. Between 2008 to 2011, the number of legal abortions has dropped to the lowest level since 1973.
The attacks on abortion rights impact poor women the most. About 62 percent of women seeking abortions are low-income mothers. Women from wealthy families are more than able to get around the laws. With abortion clinics moving hundreds of miles away, poor women have started resorting to many of the dangerous methods of the past. And if the trend continues, this is only going to get worse.
Hiding the Real Problems
The purpose of these attacks is made clear when politicians scapegoat women for the problems of the whole society. Like all lies, these statements made by the politicians are based on some truth. It’s true that this society is falling apart, that many families are being destroyed, that children are growing up with little or no adult attention, support or love. But this has nothing to do with women having too many rights or access to safe and legal abortions.
These problems come from a society where profit for corporations is the only thing that matters. Today, jobs are being lost, wages cut, homes repossessed, and education, health care, and other vital services are being stripped to the bone – those are the real problems facing working people, not women’s access to safe and legal abortion.
Right wing politicians are blaming women to cover up the problems of capitalism. Pennsylvania senator and presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, stated that single mothers are “breeding criminals and causing the fabric of this country to fall apart.” Many fundamentalist churches have become a major activist base for these politicians to get votes. When theses Republican politicians come to power, they enact anti-abortion legislation, but also attack unions, carry out massive budget cuts, and make all of the social problems facing poor and working people even worse.
The Democratic Party does not use the same scapegoating tactics to get votes. Many prominent Democratic Party politicians pay lip-service to defend women’s rights and oppose new legislation that attack women. But that’s about it. The Democrats have presided over budget cuts, attacks on wages, layoffs – everything people hoped they would fight against. It is no surprise that more people are falling for the scapegoating offered by the extreme right in this country.
Another Fight is Needed
Women’s right to safe and legal abortion was not a gift handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973, but was granted only because women fought for it. Huge social movements went on for twenty years starting in the 1950s, involving millions of people. These were the struggles that inspired a massive movement of women to fight for equal rights, childcare and safe, legal access to abortions. And if women are to hang on to this right, it will take the same kind of struggles that won these rights back in the 1970s.
Legal abortion is necessary for women’s health, women’s safety, and women’s freedom. We need to say clearly what the problem is with our society – the exploitive economic system that is capitalism. We need to clearly say that limiting the rights of women is a vicious distraction, scapegoating women while the politicians from both parties carry out a program of attacks on poor and working people.