Tens of thousands protested in hundreds of demonstrations across the country May 21 in support of women’s right to choose abortion. It was the largest outpouring of people taking to the streets to defend abortion rights in more than a decade.
Carrying signs like, “My body, my choice” and “Defend women’s right to choose,” women and men of all ages enthusiastically marched and rallied in small towns, big cities and rural areas from coast to coast.
Protests began shortly after the Alabama legislature passed a law criminalizing nearly all abortions May 14. “I’m mad, I’m angry and I am here for the long run,” 20-year-old student Brynleigh Davis said at a rally of hundreds May 19 at the state Capitol in Montgomery. Thousands marched across the state the same day.
The bill would prohibit all abortions, except in the case of imminent danger to the woman, and make it a Class A felony for doctors to perform one, punishable by up to 99 years behind bars.
“I am here because doing my job should not be criminalized,” OB-GYN Sarah Dillie told the press at the march of 2,000 in Birmingham. “I don’t think I should be called a felon for doing something that is part of comprehensive women’s health care.”
“I believe everyone should have health care,” 25-year-old Stephanie Barnett said at the Montgomery protest. “And women’s rights, reproductive rights, are health care.”
On the heels of passage of Alabama’s law, and of a series of other laws restricting abortion this year, the National Organization for Women and other women’s rights groups called for the May 21 nationwide protests. Co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Civil Liberties Union, National Council of Jewish Women and others, actions were organized “at statehouses, town squares and courthouses.”
High school students in Auburn, Alabama, have called a “Stand Up, Let Your Voices Be Heard” rally at the Capitol May 25 at 10:30 a.m.
While signing the anti-woman bill into law, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said it was unlikely to ever go into effect because it clashes with the Supreme Court 1973 decision that legalized abortion. The goal of the bill, she said, was to be the cutting edge in efforts to overturn that decision.
‘Keep on marching!’
“I urge all those who support women’s rights to join the May 21 protests and to organize ongoing actions,” Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Dallas mayor, told the Militant May 19. “We need to keep organizing and mobilizing the majority support among working people for women’s right to choose.”
The latest Pew poll shows 58% favor a woman’s right to abortion, among both women and men, across all age groups, and that this support has been growing.
These public demonstrations are what has been missing over the last several years in the fight to defend women’s right to choose, while anti-abortion restrictions have been making access to family planning care, including safe and accessible abortions, more and more difficult, and have shut down clinic after clinic.
Alabama has only three abortion clinics in the state. Six states — Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia — have only one!
Alabama is the eighth state this year to pass abortion restrictions that are intended to lead to a challenge to the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling. The Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio legislatures passed so-called heartbeat bills that would outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks, often before a woman is even aware she is pregnant. State representatives in Missouri passed a similar bill May 17 banning abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy and criminalizing doctors performing abortions, making them liable to up to 15 years in prison.
Independent political course
After the Alabama ruling, Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, said, “In the coming days, we will be mounting the fight of our lives — we will take this to court and ensure abortion remains safe and legal.”
Fox is right that this is the “fight of our lives,” but ensuring that abortion remains safe and legal cannot be won by relying on the courts, or, for that matter, by electing Democrats to office “we can rely on.”
It’s the capitalist courts that have given their stamp of approval to hundreds of laws since 1973 that have attempted to thwart women’s right and access to an abortion at every turn.
Capitalist politicians, with cooperation from the courts, have imposed waiting periods, mandatory counseling, ultrasound tests, consent regulations for minors, unnecessary rules regarding physicians’ access to hospitals, and clinic layout that have shut many facilities down.
The “character and content” of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling itself has made these attacks easier, Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, explained 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. … 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 the pregnancy.”
The 14th Amendment says, “No state shall make or enforce any law … which shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It was won out of the second American Revolution to abolish slavery. What should be illegal is any government interference with the personal decisions of women.
The right to abortion is essential to the fundamental ability of women to control our own bodies — and our lives. It is crucial for women to have the right to choose whether or not to have children, and access to birth control and family planning, in order to win equality in access to jobs, schooling and society more broadly. This is key for all working people, a precondition for the unity in action of the working class.
It is only through the mass mobilization of working people in the streets, and in defense of family planning clinics, that the majority support for a woman’s right to choose can be reinforced and a victory won. The debate over women’s rights has to be won by political and public mobilization — independent of the Democratic and Republican parties.
The middle-class liberal leadership of NOW and other groups have insisted on a different course — elect Democratic Party candidates; become part of the “anti-Trump resistance”; pass state-by-state enshrinements of fatally flawed Roe v Wade. They have no confidence in the working class, the people Hillary Clinton called the “deplorables,” so they say we should keep quiet to not get those in power upset. This course has led to disaster.
We can learn from the examples of the tens of thousands of women and men, building on gains of the fight to overthrow Jim Crow segregation and against Washington’s war in Vietnam, who organized meetings, teach-ins and public protests in the 1960s and ’70s that won legalization of women’s right to abortion. Thousands more mobilized in Wichita, Kansas; Buffalo, New York; and elsewhere in the 1990s to keep family planning clinics open, defeating rightist anti-abortion thugs led by Operation Rescue.
Defending women’s right to choose abortion is an international fight. We can gain inspiration from the successful mobilizations that won majority support and led to the recent overturn of bans on abortion in Ireland and South Korea.
Let’s take momentum from the May 21 actions and make this a fight, a fight we can win.