Women’s right to abortion under attack in Mississippi

By Lea Sherman
April 9, 2018

So far this year state officials in Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, South Carolina and others have proposed laws that would ban abortions from six to 20 weeks after conception. In Ohio a bill introduced March 19 would ban all abortions, with no exception.

Mississippi legislators passed the “Gestational Age Act,” banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. A day after Gov. Phil Bryant signed it March 19, federal Judge Carlton Reeves blocked it. Only one clinic performs abortions in the state, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which worked with the Center for Reproductive Rights to challenge the new law.

The clinic, which opened in 1995, has withstood many attempts to shut it down — from a 2006 Operation Rescue “siege” to a 2012 law that required hospital-admitting privileges for all doctors who work there.

By 2014 no clinics were providing abortions in 90 percent of U.S. counties.

Mississippi and many other states have already passed sharp restrictions that hit working-class and young women the hardest. Women are required to receive counseling, to discourage them from having an abortion. Then there’s a 24-hour waiting period, meaning two trips to the clinic. You have to undergo an ultrasound. Medicaid will pay only if your life is endangered, or in cases of rape or incest. Women under 18 must get the consent of their parents.

In some states Democrats are leading the charge. In Louisiana, Democratic state Sen. John Milkovich has introduced a bill that would imprison for 10 years any doctor who performs an abortion after 15 weeks.

The Ohio bill to ban all abortions isn’t intended to go into effect. Its purpose is to become part of a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

Hundreds of laws restricting abortion rights have been enacted since 2010. Many have centered on efforts to shorten the period after conception in which the procedure is legal. Many have been overturned.

These attacks have “been made easier by the character and content of the 1973 court ruling,” Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, wrote in The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People. “Roe v. Wade was based not on a woman’s right ‘to equal protection of the laws’ guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, but on medical criteria instead. During the first three months (‘trimester’), the court ruled, the decision to terminate a pregnancy ‘must be left to the medical judgment of a pregnant woman’s attending physician’ (not to the woman herself, but to a doctor!).

“At the same time, the court allowed state governments to ban most abortions after ‘viability,’… something that medical advances inevitably make earlier and earlier in pregnancy.”

A number of Democratic Party officials and pundits have called for the party to drop support for abortion rights, in the name of the higher interest of bringing down the Donald Trump presidency. Writing “The Abortion Memo” in the New York Times last month, columnist David Brooks posed this very question, saying, “Let’s try to imagine what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned.”

“Roughly 21 states would outlaw abortion,” he estimates, a small price to pay, he says, for shifting the political “landscape.”

What is needed is for women, the labor movement and others to take to the streets to fight to defend a woman’s right to choose. And to get out of the two-party shell game and build our own independent working-class party to chart a course to take political power.