Standing Up for Abortion at the Supreme Court, Taking on the Anti-Abortion Bullshit, and Challenging the Deadly Reliance on the Democrats of the “Pro-Choice” Movement
We spent most of yesterday at the Supreme Court for the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We began by honoring the doctors and providers who risk their lives every day to provide women with abortions.
We read statements from some of these doctors as passersby paused to listen. Behind us was a droning voice of a hate-filled anti-abortion fanatic (he later called one of our leaders, “Bitch!” and threatened to “knock [her] out”). Off to the side were a hundred or more anti-abortion activists praying in small circles or kneeling in prayer before the Supreme Court.
The whole backdrop only underscored the heroism of the providers who actually give women abortions—and how essential it is to honor them. All too often, they are accompanied and called out by name and known only by those who hate them.
But, on the 40th anniversary, at the Supreme Court in DC, their voices and their service and their courage was heralded! Stories of botched abortions and unnecessary suffering, terror and death of women before Roe were shared. Stories of commitment to women and safe access to abortion were shared. Stories of the gratitude and appreciation that millions of women have expressed to thousands of doctors and staff were shared. StopPatriarchy.org was proud to make these voices at the center of the controversy around abortion!
Taking on the Anti-Abortion Rhetoric
We were also proud to politically confront and expose the vicious program of the anti-abortion forces. We got into many arguments with them. What was noteworthy about this was less that I think we are going to sway many of their hard-core organizers and activists who believe they are on a mission from god and that motherhood is the duty of women.
But, it was noteworthy that the arguments that the people in our crew were making were getting sharper throughout the day. They were cutting through the obfuscation and claim to a “higher morality” of the anti-abortion movement. They were the kind of arguments which caused many of the young anti-abortion activists to turn around and back away because they could not answer them. They were the kind of arguments that, if they were being made more consistently throughout society in this debate, could enable those who care about the lives and the liberation of women to turn the tide. Some examples:
Why should a baby have to suffer because a woman made a mistake?
First, fetuses are not babies—so when an abortion takes place, no baby is suffering. Second, why is a woman having sex considered a mistake? Sex is not wrong. When it is engaged in with mutual respect and equality, when it is engaged in out of mutual caring and pleasure, it can be one of the most amazing experiences humans can have.
But it is a baby! Once the sperm meets the egg, if you leave it alone it will become a baby.
Wow, what happened to the woman? If you take a sperm and an egg and actually leave them alone, they will die in a few seconds. A fertilized egg doesn't become a baby because it is “left alone.” It becomes a baby only if it is incubated by a woman's body. Only if the woman takes in nutrients, keeps on breathing, living and functioning does the fertilized egg develop over time, and through stages, into a fetus and later into a baby. But, until it is born it is not a separate social or biological being. It is part of a woman's body. That woman is a person, the fetus is NOT!
But in Latin the word fetus means “little one” so that means it is a little person.
So the ignorance and prejudices of people living in an extremely patriarchal society where women were literally considered chattel, and before the emergence of modern science, are what we should bow down to? How does that make any sense? The Latin root for family is “familia” and it refers to the male head of household and all his living possessions – his wife, slaves, children, etc. – all of whom he has the power of life and death over. Does that mean, dear Christian fascists, that we should let fathers kill their wives and children and keep slaves with impunity? Because that is the Latin root? While this is actually the logic and program of the fundamentalist core of the anti-abortion movement, this is still something that most of their followers find difficult to stomach. Most of the college age anti-abortion activists who started out very emboldened by this argument ended up walking away.
There were other very good exchanges and arguments. We will blog more of them soon – again, not merely to share the impact they had on the anti-abortion activists (though sometimes that was very revealing) but even more because this shit needs to be cut through among people very broadly.
Another point I am particularly proud of was when we were getting ready to take a break for food and to warm up, one of our organizers looked back at all the teenagers kneeling before the Supreme Court with red tape over their mouths and shouted, “Listen up, if any of you are gay I just want you to know that God doesn't hate you... because god doesn't exist! And there is a place for you in this movement.”
Our activist continued to speak to them briefly about the fundamentalist camps that gay youth get sent to and how hurtful and wrong they are and letting them know this in case they go through it or know someone who does. Later, our organizer explained to us that she has friends who had that experience. It is not unheard of, actually, for people who have come through this kind of fundamentalist abuse to become active and leaders in the movement against Christian fascism and bigotry.
Taking on the Deadly Reliance on the Democrats of the Official Pro-Choice Movement
At five o'clock we returned to the Supreme Court to join with NOW and others for a short vigil for Roe v. Wade. This was a very mixed affair.
While the event was made up of some 75 people out in the bitter cold standing up for women's right to abortion, and while there was a lot of very powerful exposure done on the hypocrisy and cruelty of the anti-abortion restrictions, the dead hand of politics-as-usual and the killing subordination to the Democratic Party and official bourgeois politics was choking this message and determination.
Over and over again, important exposure on how many restrictions on abortion have been passed (a record 92 restrictions in 2011) and how difficult to access it has become, especially for poor and oppressed women, would be undercut by the insistence that, “Elections do matter!”
Stop the tape. Elections do not matter. Voting for Democrats has done nothing to counter the anti-abortion juggernaut that has been mounting over the course of decades. Whether it has been Republicans or Democrats in the White House and in Congress, this right has been steadily stigmatized, restricted and endangered.
It was Bill Clinton who popularized the position, “Safe, legal and rare.” This conceded the moral high ground to the forced-motherhood camp, implying there is something morally wrong with abortion—which there is not. But, the “pro-choice” movement, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, Feminist Majority and others, followed suit, insisting that they are the ones who reduce the most abortions!
Meanwhile, for millions of women and girls in this country abortion is something that they cannot access and the reality is that abortion needs to become more common, i.e.: the women who currently seek one who cannot access one need to be able to access one. The abortions that would take place if women currently unable to access them had access.
Besides, there is no way to reduce the need for abortion without vigorously promoting and expanding access to birth control, something that itself will require a head-on fight with the anti-abortion movement. The anti-abortion movement hates birth control as much as it hates abortion because their biggest purpose and mission is to restore the situation where women's duty was broadly acknowledged and enforced to be childbearing. The Democrats and the “pro-choice” movement have never wanted to fight this cult of motherhood—so their claim to want to reduce abortions is not only the wrong goal, it is one they could only succeed in by further criminalizing and stigmatizing abortion. In other words: it is a misdirecting, defensive, dead-end.
It was Hillary Clinton who came out and said that abortion is a “tragic” decision for women. Bullshit. You know what is tragic? Forced motherhood! You know what else is tragic? Poverty is tragic. Poverty that prevents a woman from being able to have and care for a child she wants is tragic. Rape is tragic. Pregnancies that result from rape are tragic. Health problems that interfere with a woman's pregnancy, causing risk to her life or to the fetus are tragic.
Being able to have an abortion to prevent women from being double-penalized by these tragedies, to prevent women from having to foreclose their lives and futures and dreams, to prevent women from being further trapped in poverty or abuse, this is POSITIVE AND LIBERATING!
I could go on and on, but the Democrats have led this conciliation and capitulation to the Christian fascist juggernaut that is spearheaded by the Republicans. And reliance on the Democrats has only demobilized pro-choice people and caused most of them to lose their own moral bearings.
As Bob Avakian has put it, “If you try to make the Democrats be what they are not and never will be, you will end up being more like what the Democrats actually are.”
The more pro-choice people have relied on the Democrats, the more they have themselves adopted the idea that we should apologize about abortion, that we should feel sad and mourn abortion decisions, that we should all be united in our desire to “reduce abortions” and that we should, consequently, turn our backs on the poor and oppressed people who do not have access to abortion already and join in stigmatizing all women who get or consider abortions.
Electing Obama has not slowed the attacks on abortion. It didn't stop an assassin from killing Dr. Tiller. It didn't prevent the record number of restrictions that were passed in the last two years. Actually, all it did is DEMOBILIZE the very people who ought to be out in the streets raising bloody hell about all this.
At this rally by NOW, we heard the tired refrain that the Republicans overreached in the last election by saying that pregnancies by rape are gifts from god and that the election of Democrats shows that this was defeated. Not true! The Republicans showed the true colors of the anti-abortion Christian fascist movement. The Democrats moved closer to and conciliated further with that movement in the name of “opposing” it.
A good example is what went down with Richard Mourdock—he got defeated after saying that pregnancies from rape were "gifts from god" and therefore all abortions should be banned. But, who defeated him? An anti-choice Democrat! Joe Donnelley (the Democrat) thinks abortion should be available to rape victims—so, yes, he is "not as bad"—but this whole logic is deadly.
I did get a chance to speak and I challenged this logic forcefully—we have to rely on ourselves, we have to say what no politician is willing to say, we have to defend the providers, we have to destigmatize abortion, we have to tell our stories of abortion, we have to be out in the streets, we have to change the terms, we have to rally others to join us, we have to tell people the truth: it is only in this way that we can turn the tide!
I connected the assault on abortion with the global war on women—the epidemic of rape from Delhi to Ohio and beyond, the trading of women as sex slaves across the globe, the culture of pornography and cruelty towards women, and the need for us to stand up and fight against all of this. I announced the protests StopPatriarchy.org is planning for International Women's Day and challenged people to be part of the rest of the Week of Action to Defend Abortion Rights and Defeat the War On Women while we are here in DC.
My speech got a very good response, including a number of people (young and older) who really loved my anger and the truth I was speaking about the need for a different and a much more defiant strategy. Many of these folks said they will be joining us on Friday as we go out to politically confront the March for “Life” (ie: the March for Forced-Motherhood).
When Ellie Smeal, of Feminist Majority Foundation, spoke, she polemicized against my comments. She made the picky point that the restrictions on abortion were passed at the state level, not by Obama. So fucking what? Do you think that means shit to the woman in Mississippi who cannot make it to the only clinic left in her state? The Democrats don't have to be the most vehement fighters against abortion to be the biggest obstacle to “pro-choice” people in actually standing up to defend and expand this right. Smeal also insisted that we should take over Congress. This got cheers, but only shows how imprisoned people are in thinking that the only show in town is official bourgeois politics. Congress is a ruling class institution—it is not a vehicle through which people can exercise their will. And the idea that women and men who care about abortion should direct their attention towards influencing or joining Congress makes about as much sense as suggesting that those who hate the sport of basketball change its nature by becoming its referees. (Now, I don't hate basketball—but you should get the point here, being the administrators of a fucked up system does not change the nature of that system.)
Wrestling with the Stakes and the Way Forward at Night
There is more to be said about our time at the Supreme Court, but probably the next time I blog I will get into some of the discussion the StopPatriarchy.org crew had when we got back to our place. After a wonderful dinner cooked by two of or volunteers, we spent several hours wrangling with how to understand the political moment we find ourselves in—from the collapse of any meaningful pro-choice movement to the uprisings against rape in India to the Tazreen factory fire in Bangladesh—and what it will take to bring forward not just thousands but really millions of people to fight against this heightening war on women across the globe. We wrestled with questions of revolution and resistance, of the power of art and culture, of the importance of anger and truth-telling, and visions of International Women's Day and beyond.
All that, however, will have to be the subject of another blog post because right now we have to get ready to get back out there in the world with our message and our movement. Today we are going to college campuses. Tune in later to find out how it goes.
This article originally appeared in Revolution Newspaper on January 23, 2013