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Fight for Bodily Autonomy In the Streets!

From the attacks on the right to an abortion to the attacks on trans people, it is clear that there is an ongoing assault against our right to bodily autonomy. We must fight these attacks in the streets!

Sybil Davis

April 14, 2023
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Photo: Shelby Wyatt for Source NM

Just in the past two weeks, a judge issue an injunction which — if upheld — would effectively outlaw a key abortion pill; the governor of Idago signed a new law banning “abortion trafficking”; Kansas enacted a ban on trans children playing sports, which could lead to genital inspections of underage athletes and also passed a bill (which may be vetoed) to ban gender-affirming care for minors; the Missouri Attorney General put forward an order that severely limits the ability of adults to access gender-affirming care, and the Biden administration issued an order that clears the way for more attacks on trans youth playing sports.  These are only the newest indications of an overall assault by the right-wing on our basic right to bodily autonomy and the complicity of the establishment of the Democratic Party with the anti-trans assault. Under this right-wing program, we would lose our right to decide whether or not we want to have children, whether or not we want to medically (or even socially) transition, and face massive fines and even jail time if we decide to flaunt the law and control our own bodies anyway. These attacks may appear to be separate, but in reality, they are deeply connected and being put forward by the same hyper-reactionary right-wing that has been empowered and legitimized by the overall system of capitalist pseudo-democracy we live in. These attacks are attacks on all of us, and we must fight them back.

The response from the Democrats and their NGO allies has ranged from complete silence or outrageous denial to active attacks against us.  

In the midst of an offensive against the right to bodily autonomy, these liberal misleaders and their organizations are trying to convince us that we should place our faith in the courts to protect us. The same courts that took away our right to an abortion are the ones we are told to hope will protect us. But, to millions, it is already clear: the courts are not our friends. They take away our rights, let capitalists who do heinous crimes walk free while poor and working people are put in prison for years, and allow attack after attack on the most vulnerable. The courts are institutions of capitalism, dedicated to protecting the system and their capitalist masters — who will take them on expensive vacations if they’ve been good servants. These courts aren’t just corrupt; they’re built to protect those who are currently attacking us. They are undemocratic institutions — with the greatest example being the Supreme Court, where nine unelected judges who serve for life can, with a stroke of a pen, strip us of our legal rights — who exist to moderate our struggles and repress the working class and oppressed in order to protect the overall system of capitalist governance. Even if, in the current moment, the courts do protect the rights of the oppressed, they will not be doing so out of the goodness of their hearts or out of deference to the “sanctity” of the Constitution, they will be doing so to protect the legitimacy of the system they serve.

Nor can we put our faith in the regime. Just this week, Joe Biden — who has said again and again that he supports trans rights — issued an order that clears the way for more attacks on trans rights. This betrayal shouldn’t shock us. After all, Biden and his party keep showing their true face. Look at the way they took up the demands of Black Lives Matter when it was politically beneficial only to pivot to giving more money to the police. The Democrats are wolves in poorly designed sheep’s clothing. They want to take our rage and our fear and tamp it down, to make us easier to control. So they may toss us a crumb here and there and will make stirring speeches about the need for bodily autonomy, but at the end of the day, they couldn’t care less. They’ll do what they need to stay in power, even if that means clearing the way for this right-wing assault. While they co-opt some of our slogans and may speak like they oppose oppression, they do so to advance the interests of the capitalists — clearing the way for environmental disaster, corporate bailouts, and assaults on our rights — by lulling us into a false sense of security that we don’t need to take up these struggles because our “allies” in the Democratic Party are in power. The current moment and the response of the Democratic Party to the anti-trans assault is but the latest example of the fact that any alliance the Democratic Party feels with the oppressed is purely opportunistic and will fall away when it is no longer politically useful. 

When we get their fundraising emails or see their speeches on television, we shouldn’t be fooled. Neither the Democrats or Republicans care about us and our right to bodily autonomy. They don’t care about trans kids, they don’t care about people who want abortions, they don’t care about the poor, they don’t care about the working class, they don’t care about immigrants, they don’t care about us. All they care about is keeping class struggle under control so that the economy can proceed uninterrupted. 

This has always been true, but in the current moment, it is especially evident, because our rights are under assault like never before. They are rolling back protections left and right, passing outrageous bills at the state level, and weaponizing right-wing judges to deepen these attacks. First it was Roe v. Wade and trans youth playing sports, then it was the right for trans youth to access health care, and now it is attempts to ban abortion pills and gender-affirming care for adults. These attacks will only continue until we organize ourselves to fight back. 

So, how do we fight back? Not by voting — as the Democrats constantly gaslight us into thinking — but through struggle. We need to build a mass movement for bodily autonomy on the streets. Movements like this are what have won the right to abortion around the world, and it is these movements that we must take our inspiration from. In these countries, they took the streets by the millions and demanded free, safe, and legal abortion on demand without apology. We should demand and accept nothing less. The laws that restrict our right to bodily autonomy — including anti-abortion, anti-birth control, and anti-trans legislation — must be overturned, and we must be given full access to the ability to control our bodies. This means fighting for more than just a return to what we had before. Even before Roe was overturned, abortion was incredibly difficult (and costly) to access in many places. Gender-affirming care, in general, is incredibly hard to get and can be an expensive, time-consuming, and degrading process for many trans people. Trans youth, in many states, cannot access gender-affirming care because of parental consent laws that operate under a logic that children are their parents’ property. Our fight for bodily autonomy must be a fight to demand a free, public, and universal health care system that is run by healthcare workers and communities — since they know how to put people’s needs above companies’ profits.

Indeed, even outside of legal and medical barriers to bodily autonomy, there are many barriers to our ability to fully take control of our bodies. From dress codes in schools to the long and grueling work hours we are subjected to under capitalism, this entire system functions (from the time we are born) to alienate us from our bodies and place us under the control of others. We cannot fully realize ourselves under this system that prioritizes the profits of a few over the needs of the many. This sort of thriving life, full of self-discovery and self-actualization, is impossible in a system that keeps us from having the time, resources, and freedom to develop ourselves, our genders, and our bodies to the fullest degree. We are beaten down by the day-to-day conditions of our lives, starved for time and resources, and drained in order to increase the bosses’ bottom line. The whole system needs to go. These current attacks are a monstrous manifestation of what is inherent in the system of capitalism and so we must fight not just against these attacks but against the system that created, empowered, and implemented them. 

This fight must happen on the streets and in our workplaces. We must organize ourselves separately from the snakes who try to lure us away from our goals. Building a movement on the streets is the first step to defending our bodily autonomy, but we must take the fight further and organize inside our unions, schools, and workplaces to create committees to organize the fight against the attacks on our bodily-autonomy. We must also create, for ourselves, a political project that can organize the fight against these attacks and connect them to the other key struggles — such as the fight for immigrant rights, for workers’ rights, and for socialism. We’re all fighting the same enemy, and if we join our struggles together, we will be stronger in our fight. The Democrats have shown that they won’t fight for us, so we cannot put our faith in them. Rather, we must build our own party — a party of the working class that doesn’t give one inch to our capitalist oppressors. With a party like this, we can organize on the scale we need to truly fight these attacks and realize our deeper goals: a total overthrow of this terrible system where our rights can be at risk at any moment.

So, in this current moment, we cannot wait. We cannot wait for the courts to do the right thing; we cannot wait for the next election; we cannot wait. The fight for our bodily autonomy is on, and we must be the ones to take it up. We need to organize ourselves and take to the streets to demand that we take not one step back, that our bodies are ours, and that we should be the ones to decide what to do with them. Because the attacks are coming now. Abortion and gender-affirming care for trans youth are already outlawed in many states — with more on the horizon — and soon abortion pills and gender-affirming care for adults may be outlawed. These attacks are coming now, and we must fight them in the streets. All out for bodily autonomy! Down with the attacks on our bodies!

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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