Let’s Organize Mass Actions on March 8th!

By Florence Oppen
The election of Trump and the nomination of an explicitly anti-abortion (and homophobic) Vice President, Mike Pence, made clear that reproductive rights are going to be even more on the chopping board. The culture of passive acceptance to losing rights cultivated by the liberal elites has emboldened the Christian Rights and made the struggle harder. Fortunately, the massive participation in Women´s March, the International Women Strike platform and the #metoo movement are marking a break with that. Let’s build a mass movement for women and reproductive rights!

Trump Increases War on Women

In Late January, President Trump delivered strong support to the anti-choice movement, as thousands of participants attended the annual March for Life event in Washington. During the campaign, Pence threatened to eliminate abortion rights during a public town hall in Michigan in July during the campaign: “We’ll see Roe v. Wade consigned to the ash heap of history where it belongs”.[1] A first step in that direction is the threat of the new Trump administration to make the Hyde Amendment from 1977 (which bans the use of any federal funds for abortion, unless the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest, or if it is determined to endanger the woman’s life) into permanent law. Until now it is an amendment attached annually to Congressional appropriations bills and has been approved every year by the Congress.
Trump’s endorsement of the March for Lives in January follows over one year of vicious attacks against full access to reproductive health care for women. In a direct assault against working class women’s ability to access reproductive healthcare, the Department of Health and Human services established an exemption for employers. Organizations claiming freedom of religion could opt out of providing health plans covering birth control.
Despite attempts to block this measure, Trump continues his assault against the right to abortions, contraceptives, and gender-affirming health care services. Most recently, he announced he would be expanding protections for health care professionals who object to providing necessary medical procedures including abortions and gender reassignment surgery on the grounds of religious freedom. These protections would most certainly result in restricted access to contraceptives as well.
The Silent Erosion Of Abortion Rights And Ongoing Alt-Right Assault on Women’s Bodies
What has played out in the last 15 years is a bi-partisan neoliberal assault on women’s rights geared at depleting the content and material access of abortion and reproductive rights for women. An erosion that began under Bush, accelerated under Obama period. Today the situation is worse: 58% of U.S. women of reproductive age lived in states that were hostile toward abortion rights.[2] According to the Guttmacher Institute “29 states have adopted enough abortion restrictions to be considered either hostile (6 states) or extremely hostile (23 states) to abortion rights, with Iowa and West Virginia entering the hostile group for the first time.[3]
Despite the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe vs Wade which legalized abortion in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, today:[4]

  • Gestational Limits: 43 states prohibit abortions generally except when necessary to protect the woman’s life or health, after a specified point in pregnancy, most often fetal viability;
  • Public Funding: Only 17 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds except in those cases when federal funds are available: where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. In defiance of federal requirements, South Dakota limits funding to cases of life endangerment only.
  • Insurance Coverage: 11 states restrict coverage of abortion in private insurance plans, most often limiting coverage only to when the woman’s life would be endangered if the pregnancy were carried to term;
  • Refusal to perform abortion: 45 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion. 42 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions, 16 of which limit refusal to private or religious institutions.
  • Mandatory Counseling: 18 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states), the ability of a fetus to feel pain (13 states) or long-term mental health consequences for the woman (8 states).
  • Waiting Periods: 27 states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between when she receives counseling and the procedure is performed.

Overall, the Guttmacher Institute reports that since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, states have passed 1,193 laws to limit access to abortion, and 401 of these abortion restrictions have been passed since 2011, constituting 34% of all abortion restrictions enacted for the whole period. One might ask: what did the Democratic Party and the Obama administration do to stop this massive and silent erosion of abortion rights? Nothing, not even a public debate or a national campaign. This silent and complicit attitude reveals the true commitment to the liberal sector of the ruling class towards the rights and liberation of oppressed sectors. Despite opposite rhetorics, both the Republican and Democratic Party have collaborated in making the right to perform an abortion a virtual reality in ⅔ of the country.

The Role of the Catholic Church and Right-Wing Evangelical Groups

Many Church leaders defend a conception of the family that singles out motherhood as women’s defining role, and that maintains social and political inequality between men and women in the private and public sphere. We know that the Catholic Church has been historically at the forefront of most of the worldwide anti-abortion campaigns. Today in the United States, it is not anymore the Catholic Church coming after women’s rights, it is also the evangelical Christian Right which took on this issue in the 1980s, and which strength is growing. Both religious blocks are constituting a reactionary united front with some sectors of the Republican Party (and the silent acquiescence of some sectors of the Democratic Party) to restrict abortion rights in many states and attack women. We believe their arguments must be defeated and their true purposes exposed.
In their campaigns these reactionary institutions sway away from scientific arguments, and use instead classic rhetorical communication tactics in their attempt to reframe abortion as a “murder”, and their opposition to it as a “pro-life” campaign. Indeed, who could argue in favor of murder or against life!
They are however full of hypocrisy. The Catholic Church while it considers abortion as one of the worst sins, it has repeatedly failed to act to protect the youth it abuses and sanction sexual predators in its ranks. In 2002 after another the sex abuse scandal by priests exploded in Australia, Cardinal George Pell stated that “ abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people.”[5] The Catholic Church’s does not treat all lives equally, to say the least. It has still to prosecute a single priest that abused a child, yet it is more concerned about the futures or potential lives than the ones already existing which have been harmed by their leading members.
Furthermore, we don’t see the Catholic Church (or the Evangelical right) put 100,000 people in the streets to condemn racist police murders, the opposed wars and military operations of the U.S. government abroad, or defy the constant raids and deportations of immigrant families. These forms of life deprivation and mistreatment are not seen as an existential threat to their beliefs. They are to ours as socialists for we mobilize for those actions in big numbers. Yet suddenly they are extremely worried and concerned over a form of life that has still to flourish, and they pour massive ressources to put more than 100,000 in the Washington D.C. March for Life, and 50,000 people in the streets in San Francisco, 35,000 in Los Angeles just to mention 2 of the more than 70 cities were local rallies were held in January 2018.[6]
In our view as socialists this is not a debate between pro or anti life, this is about protecting and expanding women’s reproductive and sexual rights. It is also a matter of defending all rights of contraception and sexual education in the schools.
We also do not believe that abortion rights are a matter of “religion” versus “atheism”, even less linked to spiritual beliefs people might have. It is possible to separate the domain of science and one’s own spirituality, actually it is what most people do. Scientific evidence proves today that a foetus is not a person, and up to a number of weeks of gestation, the basic organs and sensibility of a living being are not develop – let alone any form of human consciousness. It also proves that abortion procedures today can be painless when done in a legal and safe clinic. Actually 80% of religious affiliated Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.[7] These Americans like us see abortion as a political and healthcare right, and not as a threat to their spiritual beliefs. This shows than more of a matter of religion, it is a political question of equality.
Therefore it is important to reframe the question starting from what is at stake for all living women, and not starting from scientific misconceptions or hypothetical beings. Are we going to defend ful political equality between men and women, which includes women’s full autonomy, or are we going to say women need to ask for permission and consent from someone else to take care of their own body, health and family life? Are we going to support the rights of a living woman to make a free health and family choice, or are we going to leverage against her the rights of a so-called “unborn child” which is not yet a person?
For us as socialists the struggle of free abortion on demand goes to the core of the kind of society we want. It encapsulates a struggle for full political freedom and equality for women in our society, it also emcompasses free single-payer healthcare for all, so our rights are met with existing material means. And the move to regulate reproduction and ban abortion is an attempt to use religion and scientific falsehoods to take away basic human rights of choice, to oppress and demoralize women, to cut on one reproductive healthcare and planned parenthood social rights. It is a full blown attack on women and working class families to which we need to respond united.
The Significance of the International Women Strike Platform
These attacks have not gone unchallenged though and have been paralleled by increasingly intense dissent by women across the country – evidenced by the Women’s March and the explosion of the #metoo movement. For the second year in a row, millions of women and their allies took to the streets to protest patriarchal violence against women and the policies that prevent women’s full control of their bodies.
While many women were galvanized again by the two last January marches, the current leadership of these events, crippled by the influence of the Democratic Party, is attempting to channel their momentum towards elections (see the “power to the polls” march theme) – focusing upcoming efforts on registration drives and building rallies to promote democratic politicians. This year it was reportedly more difficult to contain “messaging” at this year’s rally than at last march because pressure form below is rising, asking for a concrete plan of action to continue the struggle. The Democratic Party and their corporate feminist allies will not be the ones to provide this leadership. On the opposite, they are an obstacle for that.
The International Women’s Strike platform emerged as an independent and grassroots leadership to develop the potential of the Women’s March in sustained, democratic and independent direction. It also emerged with an internationalist and anti-capitalist perspective. This is we we believe the most urgent task and opportunity to fight for women’s liberation is to build an independent and real base of the IWS platform.
If IWS takes on this challenge of building a working class base and succeeds, it can play the key role of constituting a working class a united front of committed socialist and radical activists, union organizers and student leaders, class sectors of all genders to build a unified movement that goes beyond protesting Trump and targets the true material root of women’s oppression – the capitalist economy. Capitalism makes relies on unpaid reproductive labor, the over-exploitation of women, and the control and limitation of their reproductive rights. It also fosters violence on women by treating them as sexual objects.
On March 8th: Let’s Build an Independent Mass Actions for Women’s Rights!
This year we are mobilizing once again with the International Women Strike Platform which has called for a “strike for labor rights, equal rights for all immigrants, equal pay and a living wage, because sexual violence in the workplace is allowed to fester when we lack these means of collective defence,” and is proposing to organize “a day of mobilization of black and brown women, cis and bi, lesbian and trans women workers, of the poor and the low waged, of unpaid caregivers, of sex workers and migrants.” This year the IWS Platform has began to develop a labor focus with the goal of building a base in local unions to mobilize for women’s rights from an anti-capitalist, non-corporate perspective
The Bay Area International Women Strike Committee has made a special call to the Labor Movement to join in the day of action: “We call on local unions, both elected officials and rank and file workers, as well as labor councils to actively engage with this re-emerging independent, non-corporate and grassroots women’s movement, for we believe our unions and working class women have been and should continue at the center of this struggle.” So far several union locals have endorsed officially the call for action: AFSCME 3299 (service workers at the UC), Berkeley Federation of Teachers, UC-AFT (librarians and lecturers), UAW 2865 Berkeley Unit (Academic Student Employees), AFT 2121 (faculty at San Francisco City College) and CFA-SFSU (faculty and librarians in San Francisco State University).
Many workplaces and schools will see local actions and disruptions, and in the Bay Area local rallies will be held at San Francisco and Berkeley on March 8th. By building a base for IWS we are building this working class front through actions like this and more to come. building a base and an antisexist pro- women’s liberation consciousness the working class for our future actions. Come and join us!
[1] http://qz.com/834521/trump-birth-control-reproductive-rights/
[2] https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2018/01/policy-trends-states-2017
[3]  https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2018/01/policy-trends-states-2017
[4] https://www.guttmacher.org/united-states/abortion/state-policies-abortion
[5] https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/catholic-church-rocked-as-top-cardinal-charged-with-sex-offences/article35497697/
[6] https://marchforlife.org/march-life-2018/local-march-for-life-events/
[7] http://www.pewforum.org/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

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