By Barry Sheppard, San Francisco
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across 600 cities and towns in the United States on May 14 in defence of abortion rights.
The “Bans Off Our Bodies” protests were organised in the face of the “leaked” draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that legalised abortion.
The largest action, involving 20,000 protesters, was in the capital, Washington, DC.
It is likely that the Court’s anti-abortion reactionary majority will overturn Roe either explicitly or in fact when it rules on the issue next month.
The demonstrations were called on short notice by the group Women’s March and supported by other abortion rights organisations, including Planned Parenthood and Black women organisations. The day kicked off a planned “Summer of Rage” leading up to the 2022 Women’s Conference to be held on August 12-14 in Houston, Texas.
The theme of the demonstrators was women’s right to control their own bodies, “Bans Off Our Bodies”, often expressed in colourful ways on the signs they carried. One sign carried by many and also worn as t-shirts said “I Had an Abortion”, an expression of the mood of defiance and readiness to fight.
The implications for the rights of LGBTQI people were also expressed. The New York Times article covering the demonstrations said, “For some, protesting the draft opinion was not just about protecting the right to abortion.
Same-sex couple Lillian and Emi Penafiel, who were at one protest, told the New York Times: “They’re coming after all of it.”
The overthrow of Roe would leave it up to the states to pass their own laws on abortion rights. 26 states under the far-right Republicans will be ready to outlaw all abortions.
The Supreme Court has already made decisions upholding state laws passed by Republicans and some Democrats restricting abortions so severely they are virtually outlawed – so new state laws are guaranteed not to be overturned at the federal level.
It will likely mean that only those Democratic controlled states on or near the west coast or the north-east, plus a few in the mid-west, will allow most abortions. Women in states where abortions will be outlawed will have to travel to those states – often hundreds of miles.
Working class women, especially those who have lower incomes, will find that difficult. Also, many will not be able to take time off work to do so.
Most Black and Latino women would be hardest hit.
The Times reported that in New York City, the demonstration began in Brooklyn, before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to a U.S. courthouse in lower Manhattan. At the gathering point, “Volunteers offered snacks and signs with phrases like ‘Stand with Black Women’.”
DemocracyNow! reported on the Washington, DC rally, where Monica Simpson, the African American executive director of SisterSong, said:
“We need you to get in this fight with us. We need you in every action. We need you in every state, in every place and everywhere in ensure that we have the reproductive justice we deserve.
“I know it’s a hard fight, y’all. I know we’ve got the long haul to go, but if we stay connected, if we stay together, then I believe we will win!”
The host of DemocracyNow! Amy Goodman said, “This comes as frustration with President Biden and the Democratic Party is growing. As the party controls the House and Senate but has failed to put forward a plan to preserve federal abortion rights even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.”
The Democrats attempted to introduce a face-saving bill — which they knew would fail — for a federal law to defend abortion rights after the Alito draft was made public. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin joined with Senate Republicans to block the bill. However, even if it had passed, the Supreme Court would have declared it unconstitutional, Goodman said.
“Meanwhile, [Democratic] House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats support a conservative anti-abortion Democrat in Texas, Henry Cuellar, despite his long-standing opposition to reproductive rights,” Goodman continued. He is running against a progressive in the Democratic primary on May 24.
Goodman then introduced Renee Bracey Sherman, the Black founder and executive director of the activist organization We Testify, which is dedicated to the leadership and representation of women who have had abortions.
Goodman noted that she was wearing a T-shirt that says “I have had an abortion.”
Sherman said, “I had an abortion when I was 19. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I was in a relationship that was toxic and unsafe, and I simply did not want to be pregnant, and I didn’t want to parent at that time. I knew I could have an abortion [under Roe at the time] ….
“But I felt the stigma and the shame, particularly as a bi-racial Black women who had an abortion … and didn’t see people talking about abortion access and the intersection of racism, anti-Blackness and lack of abortion access and how, for Black folks, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
“The same people who shame us for having abortions are the same people who shame us if we are single Black parents….”
Sherman is a writer. A recent article in Time magazine she wrote was titled “Voting Won’t Save Abortion Rights.”
Goodman asked, “Renee, you’ve been very critical of the Democratic Party …. Why?”
“I’ve learned over the last couple of years [that] the worse thing a progressive or radical can do is ask Democrats to do their jobs ….
“I have been an abortion activist for well over a decade, and I’ve seen a lot of broken promises to people trying to get abortions. During the Obama years, when we saw all of the restrictions being enacted across the states, we asked if there was action that could be taken.
“And there were several times in which the administration said that abortion access wasn’t the front issue. In fact, policies that were racist and discriminatory, like the Hyde Amendment [which Congress has included in in annual spending bills since 1976, and which prohibits federal funds from covering abortion services for people enrolled in Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance programs], which doesn’t allow Medicaid to cover abortion care, was not repealed.”
In another excerpt from the interview, Sherman said:
“Every time you see Black people getting free, Black liberation, after the civil rights movement, after right now Black Lives Matter, you will see a lot of anti-abortion restrictions, because white people are afraid of the political power that Black people are able to get, and people of color everywhere, and immigrants, undocumented folks, queer folks, all of us.
“They are afraid of us challenging the status quo and being able to decide if, when and how to have our families. So, all of this goes hands in hand.”
Both parties have worked to roll back the gains won in the radicalization of the “Sixties”. Now the Republicans are spearheading that drive. Having become the party of open extreme reactionaries, they are attacking women’s rights including abortion, Black rights including the right to vote, LGBTQI rights, etc.
A new front is climate change, an existential threat to humanity.
The establishment Democrats have not mobilized their voters against these reactionary attacks. More and more people are becoming aware of this fact, which reflects the whole ruling capitalist class’s move to the right. The Republican spearhead allows the Democrats to look more moderate by comparison but in fact are part of the overall reaction against the “Sixties”.
In the United States there is no mass party of the working class and the oppressed, even a reformist one, to challenge the Republicans and Democrats. The only way forward is to support all examples of resistance, which can lay the basis to begin to form such a party, to eventually build a mass revolutionary movement to challenge capitalist rule.