by Susan Rosenthal
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to outlaw a form of late-term abortion. The one dissenting judge pointed out that this ruling bans “a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.”
This latest blow against women’s rights follows decades of attacks. As soon as abortion was legalized in 1973, anti-abortionists began picketing and bombing women’s clinics. In 1976, the Hyde Amendment eliminated abortion funding for poor women. Since Hyde, a web of restrictive laws have made it increasingly difficult for women to access abortion. Today, ninety percent of U.S. counties offer no abortion services at all.
Not only is it harder to get abortion, it’s harder to get contraception, including the morning-after pill. Employers can refuse to provide contraceptive coverage in their health plans, pharmacists can refuse to dispense oral contraceptives, and doctors can deny patients’ requests for birth control information. These measures increase the need for abortion at a time when it is less available.
Women with money can always find safe abortions. Restrictions on abortion hit working-class women hardest. Before abortion was legalized, 90 percent of the women who died from illegal abortions in New York City were Black and Hispanic.
A basic democratic right
Regardless of your personal views, it’s dangerous to support any legal restriction on abortion. The right to control one’s body is a basic democratic principle. If women can be denied this right, then no one’s rights are safe.
The Supreme Court justified its ruling by saying that it wanted to protect women from making harmful decisions. Where did it get the idea that abortion is harmful?
Anti-abortion campaigns are designed to make women feel guilty about having abortions. That guilt is then used to claim that abortion harms women’s mental health. “Informed consent” and mandatory counseling laws aim to dissuade women from having abortions and to guilt them if they proceed. The Supreme Court shows no concern for the harm caused by these measures.
Medically, abortion is much safer than childbirth. The risk of dying from legal abortion in the U.S. is much lower than the risk of dying in childbirth. Furthermore, unlike abortion, childbirth is strongly linked with postpartum depression and psychosis.
The abortion debate is not about what’s best for women. The ruling class doesn’t care about women’s health or their lives. If they did, they would provide paid parental leave and a national system of childcare.
The attack on abortion is part of a larger strategy to remove decision-making power from ordinary people. In the workplace, the boss dictates the worker’s every move, including bathroom breaks. In society, the State dictates personal behaviors, including sexuality and reproduction.
Violation of the right-to-decide is so taken for granted that people get caught up in debates about how the State should control people’s lives. The right of the State to dictate personal matters is never questioned.
A truly democratic society would provide all the options – sex education, contraception, abortion, support for having children – and trust people to make the best decisions for themselves. Of course, some people’s choices will turn out badly. However, poor outcomes cannot be avoided by depriving people of the right to decide. Many women who are denied safe abortions will have unsafe abortions, with their much greater risk of infection and death.
The right to abortion cannot be trusted to “pro-choice” liberals who have failed to defend this right over the past 30 years. Without abortion there is no choice. We need free abortion on demand, so that all women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies.
The right to abortion absolutely can’t be trusted to politicians. In 2006, Democrats joined with Republicans to outlaw abortion in South Dakota. Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton calls abortion a “sad, even tragic choice” that shouldn’t “ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.”
The right to control our bodies is a working-class demand that goes hand-in-hand with the right to control our lives, our work and society. These basic rights have been won in the past, and will only be secured in the future, when large numbers of people organize and fight for them.