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Rise in Forced Pregnancies Shows the Need for an Independent Movement for Abortion Rights

Post-Dobbs, research shows that many people in states where abortions are banned have been unable to get them. We need a movement to fight for free, safe, legal abortion on demand.

Molly Rosenzweig

December 19, 2023
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Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Dobbs decision is keeping people from exercising their bodily autonomy and forcing people to give birth. A recent New York Times article shows that although the rate of abortions has not decreased nationwide, birth rates have increased in states with abortion bans since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year. A working paper by the Institute of Labor Economics found that in “the first six months of the year, between one-fifth and one-fourth of women living in states with bans — who may have otherwise sought an abortion — did not get one.” The Dobbs decision is keeping people from exercising their bodily autonomy and forcing people to give birth.

The strategies of trusting the Democrats or the courts are a dead end, and while abortion pills are necessary, the way forward must be to fight for free, safe and legal abortion for all, in every single state. 

Other research has shown an increase in births in Texas, where a six-week abortion ban was put into place before Dobbs. This has disproportionately affected people of color, younger people, immigrants, those with disabilities, and individuals with lower income, who already had difficulty accessing abortion before Dobbs. Not everyone can afford to travel to get an abortion; this is reflected in the fact that states with abortion bans bordering states with legal abortion have had smaller increases in birth rates as opposed to states where people would have to travel further. A recent report by the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in South Dakota — a state which banned abortion — has shown that the abortion ban disproportionately affected indigenous families. Although interstate abortions have doubled since 2020 — showing that there are a portion of patients that are traveling to access abortion — nobody should be forced to travel out of state in order to get access to vital healthcare.

These studies show just how devastating the Supreme Court decision has been for people all across the country, many of whom have effectively lost their bodily autonomy and their right to choose whether or not they carry a child to term. That nine out-of-touch and unelected judges, following the lead of the misogynistic and bigoted Far Right, would have the ability to decide the fate of so many people in so many states, underscores the completely undemocratic nature of the Supreme Court and the fact that we cannot rely on the courts to fight for our rights. Even after the passage of Roe v. Wade, the Far Right was still able to chip away at abortion access one law at a time in state after state — even before the Dobbs decision — making access to abortion as difficult as possible.

The only way to truly win the right to abortion is by building a mass political movement in the streets and in our workplaces to force states and the Congress to pass unqualified legislation ensuring the absolute right to free, safe abortion on demand. This includes access to all forms of medically safe abortion, including so-called abortion pills mifepristone and misoprostol.

This data also shows that the strategy of clandestinely mailing abortion pills — seen in slogans such as “Abortion Pills Forever” — to those in banned states and setting up abortion funds was clearly insufficient from the start. The emphasis on adapting to, rather than fighting back against the attacks on bodily autonomy had the unfortunate effect of undermining the very real sense of urgency and the possibility for mass political action that followed the Dobbs decision. This has since led to a belief that the political attack on bodily rights can be won through legal loopholes, more education, and voting. But we cannot merely accept these bans and adapt ourselves to them: We must put up a political struggle to fight for abortion rights and bodily autonomy across the entire country.

We also can’t depend on Democrats to defend our rights. They dangle abortion as a carrot every election season to get out the vote. As seen by referendums in even red states, legal abortion is popular, and played a role in preventing a “red wave” in the 2022 midterm elections.  As “Genocide Joe” is losing support from Arab-American and younger voters due to the bloody U.S.-backed Israeli offensive on Gaza, you can bet that Democrats will double down on being the protectors of abortion rights to distract from the ongoing massacre. They will double down, even though Democrats had nearly 50 years to codify Roe; Obama even had a supermajority early in his term but stated that protecting abortion is just not a top priority. Even Biden, with his majority in Congress, did not codify Roe. It is clear that voting for Democrats is no guarantee of winning reproductive rights. 

Abortion Pills and Mutual Aid Are Not Enough

Abortion pills are an essential way for people to access reproductive care; they should be easily available to all who want it. However, we have recently witnessed some sectors of the reproductive rights movement retreating from the demand of free, legal, abortion on demand and instead have organized under the slogan “Fuck SCOTUS, we are doing it anyway.” As the statistics explained earlier highlight, that just isn’t the case for many people. 

Abortion pills may theoretically be available, but that doesn’t stop further right-wing attacks on access to abortion pills. As already mentioned, there have been right-wing attacks on abortion rights for decades, one example being TRAP laws, chipping away at abortion rights before the undemocratic Supreme Court — made up of nine unelected judges appointed for life — overturned Roe. Although abortion pill use has increased in banned states post-Dobbs, it doesn’t mean that they can get to everyone who needs them, or that many people even have the information to begin with. Many may not be able to afford the $150 to order abortion pills from places like Aid Access, further highlighting the need for free abortion on demand. Furthermore, abortion pills should only be taken in the first 11 weeks of pregnancy, so those further along still need access to surgical abortion. Or perhaps a patient may just prefer to have a surgical abortion. Abortion needs to be available, along with all healthcare, and patients shouldn’t have to jump through hoops, like clandestinely ordering abortion pills online, or needing to travel to get abortions.

The New York Times article shows that many of the abortion pills ordered to banned states were from overseas and reproductive rights groups. Many people who need abortions may not even be aware that they can order these pills online, whether from overseas or mutual aid groups. Furthermore, the fact that states with legal abortion are swamped with out-of-state patients shows how out of reach medical abortion is for a lot of people; many do not have access to this information. Or many people may justifiably be nervous about ordering abortion pills online if they are in a state with banned abortion, as it is not out of the realm of possibility that the far right will further restrict and criminalize abortion pills. 

For example, a teen and her mother in Nebraska were sentenced to 90 days in jail after obtaining abortion pills, and more states could go down this route. Earlier this year, the Alabama attorney general said that people using abortion pills could be targeted by a “chemical-endangerment law” — a law that has already been used to criminalize pregnant people struggling with addiction. Whether or not people taking abortion pills are actually prosecuted under this law, the attorney general’s statements understandably can cause confusion and anxiety. Furthermore, a survey earlier this year shows there’s widespread confusion about whether or not abortion pills are legal in their states. Not having clear information about what access patients have is itself a barrier to care. 

In April, there was the whole debacle regarding the (unelected) right-wing judge attempting to take away FDA approval for mifepristone. Because of appeals, the Supreme Court issued a stay until it definitively rules on it, so no further federal restrictions on mifepristone are in effect at this point. Recently, the Court announced that they will hear the case, with the possibility that the right majority will limit access to mifepristone. Already, Planned Parenthood has been giving up the fight and capitulating by announcing it would switch to a misoprostol-only protocol if the ruling is upheld, which isn’t as effective and has more side effects. If this is upheld, it even affects those in states where abortion is legal. 

Planned Parenthood, with its vast resources, has refused to put up a real fight for reproductive rights. They haven’t because the organization is tied to the Democratic Party and are locked into the strategy of “defending” abortion through electing more Democrats. This case also highlights that states could implement laws restricting or criminalizing abortion pills (if they haven’t already), and we can’t be reassured that whatever the current legal landscape is will stay in place.

Abortion pills and abortion funds as a strategy gives up the fight for abortion rights and bodily autonomy. It means working within restrictions, rather than putting up a political fight and resistance against restrictions and for free abortions, on demand. Of course we are pro-abortion pills. However, we cannot just give up and rely on ordering overseas and scattered groups (most likely made up of people just trying to get by day to day in capitalism) to ensure that we have access to basic healthcare. A recent article in The Nation pointed out that while abortion funds received a lot of donations in the immediate aftermath of Dobbs, they are now struggling to keep up. 

This isn’t just about abortion. By allowing these states to ban abortion access without putting up a fight, this opens the door to infringement of other democratic rights. We’ve seen this with states banning trans youth from access to life-saving healthcare.

Relying on abortion pills as a strategy also does not address those who need abortions later in pregnancy due to health complications. This has already been seen in Texas, where the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a case on behalf of 22 plaintiffs, 20 of whom were patients who were not able to receive proper care due to the states’ vagueness on what counts as a medical exception for abortion, and putting their lives on the line.  In such a medical emergency, one may not be able to travel long distances to get the care they need — nor should they have to. Furthermore, a national survey of OB-GYNs found that post-Dobbs 40 percent of office-based OB-GYNs in states with banned abortions have felt constraints on their ability to treat patients with miscarriages and pregnancy-related medical emergencies. 55 percent of OB-GYNs in banned states say that their ability to take care of patients within the standard of care has become worse, along with 61 percent of those in banned states being concerned about legal risk.

The strategy of only focusing on abortion pills also doesn’t put up a fight against the increasing criminalization of pregnant people or anyone who provides assistance to someone seeking an abortion (e.g., SB8 in Texas). This includes those who didn’t even seek abortions, but happened to suffer from a miscarriage. Recently, in Ohio, a Black woman was charged with “abuse of a corpse” after suffering from a miscarriage, highlighting that the increasing criminalization of pregnant people has disproportionately affected people of color and poorer people.

Mass movements as we have seen in Argentina and Ireland show that abortion rights will be won in the streets, not by putting our hands up and accepting abortion bans, just because theoretically, abortion pills can be clandestinely sent through the mail. Workers can go on strike, shut down the capitalists’ profits, to push for our demands. Unions also need to take up the fight for abortion rights and bodily autonomy. Our power as workers lies in our ability to shut down the bosses’ profits — we can use this power in demands for abortion rights. 

Healthcare workers especially have a role to play in this fight. This also includes the fight for free, public healthcare, including contraception. It includes the right to parent: for free childcare and paid parental leave. We need a working-class party with a socialist program that will fight against the attacks on bodily autonomy, from abortion to trans rights, that will fight for a federal law for free, safe, and accessible abortion.

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