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The Democrats Are Cynically Using Abortion Rights to Get Out the Vote. Don’t Fall for It

This week, three weeks before the midterms, Biden proposed a cynical deal to those who want to defend abortion rights: if you get Democrats more seats in Congress, we’ll codify Roe. But restoring faith in the Democratic Party will not guarantee reproductive healthcare, fight the Far Right, or address the material needs of people feeling the effects of inflation. Working and oppressed people need their own solution.

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Saying the quiet part out loud, on Tuesday afternoon Biden gave a speech that expressed the Democrats’ midterms strategy for what it is: holding abortion rights hostage in order to secure more seats in Congress for the Democratic Party. 

Surrounded by young people and the words “Restore Roe,” Biden spoke about the importance of reproductive rights and promised that if the Democrats win more seats in Congress on November 8, the first piece of legislation he will sign is a federal law codifying the provisions of Roe v. Wade:

The only sure way to stop these extremist laws that are — put in jeopardy women’s health and rights is for Congress to pass a law…If you care about the right to choose, then you got to vote. That’s why, in these midterm elections, it’s so critical to elect more Democratic senators to the United States Senate and more Democrats to keep control of the House of Representatives. And, folks, if we do that, here is the promise I make to you and the American people: The first bill that I will send to the Congress will be to codify Roe v. Wade.

This comes as Roe v. Wade has not only been overturned, but as far-right Republicans are attacking abortion rights state by state and as a sector of the Right is proposing a national ban on abortions after six weeks. Further, these far-right Republicans have proposed over 200 anti-trans laws and have already passed several laws that attack trans youth and LGBTQ people, particularly targeting them in public schools – a fact that Biden didn’t mention at all in his speech. 

Tuesday’s plea to young people to take to the polls is the culmination of the Democrats’ electoral strategy three weeks before the midterms and is a clear message to the rest of the Democratic Party: the centerpiece of the Democrats’ midterm campaign is all about abortion rights. 

But the truth is that there is almost no chance that the Democrats will come out of the midterms with a “filibuster-proof” majority in both houses of Congress. The Democrats will likely not be in a better position (they may even be in a worse position) to pass legislation. Biden knows it. Even now, however, if they wanted to pass a law to protect and expand abortion rights, they could do it; but getting rid of the undemocratic filibuster is not something they are willing to do in this moment.

Positioning themselves as the champions of abortion access in order to win votes is not a new strategy. And we’ve seen over and over again that this strategy is a dead end and we can’t afford to rely on the Democrats anymore to protect our rights. Working class and oppressed people need to build a movement independent from the Democrats and we need a party of our own to actually fight for our interests against the attacks of the state.

Abortion is at the Center of the Democrats’ Midterm Campaign

For decades, the Democrats have used abortion rights as a way to mobilize their base to the polls. Over and over, they told us that the only way to keep the already limited provisions set in Roe v. Wade was to vote for the Democrats, no matter how unsavory progressives found their policies. And yet, despite these promises, the Democrats have done nothing to pass any protections for abortion, making way for a series of state laws and regulations that chipped away at abortion access, closed clinics, and made abortion inaccessible for millions of working peple in states across the country even before Roe was overturned.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade was shocking to many. Nearly 60 percent of people polled oppose the decision. Indeed, the extraordinary support for keeping abortion legal was expressed just weeks after the SCOTUS decision, when voters in Kansas, a red state, overwhelingly turned out to support a referendum to protect abortion rights.  

Even though they did nothing for decades to protect access to abortion, the Democrats once again chose to make abortion their focus, this time putting their efforts into overdrive. Despite a tanking economy and low approval ratings for many of the country’s oldest institutions, and despite being forecast to suffer a crushing defeat in November, the Democrats have managed to somewhat put themselves back in the game. Vast numbers of women have registered to vote since Roe was overturned, especially in states where referendums legalizing or protecting abortion access have been put forward or where trigger bans have come into effect. The Democrats’ poll numbers went up in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision and suddenly much of their base was ready to mobilize to the polls. The Democrats hoped, much like in 2018, that a “women’s wave” would take the midterms. Dubbed “Roevember,” the Democrats hope that people’s real anger, worry, and fear around dwindling access to abortion will resuscitate an ailing party. 

But it’s not just Democratic Party politicians who are pushing the anger at the Supreme Court and fear about lack of access to healthcare to the polls. It’s their allies in the big NGOs as well. While the Women’s March advertised a “Summer of Rage,” there was not a single national action called and organized by the Women’s March. When the Women’s March called a national conference, it was primarily as a mechanism to get people to the polls. When it finally did call for a weekend of action in early October, it was only to tie those actions to voting for the Democrats on November 8.

This “Roevember” politicking has been particularly directed at young people. In his speech, Biden made a direct plea to the “young people of this nation”:

[T]oday we face an inflection point, one of those moments that only come around every several generations where there’s so much change happening — technologically, politically, and socially — that the decisions we make now are going to determine the future of our nation and the future of your generation for the next 30 or more years, and it only happens once every five, six generations. I know that you may feel like it’s an added burden on top of all you’ve already been through…I’m not saying you have to shoulder the burden alone. The task at hand and the task ahead is the work of all of us…Your generation will not be ignored, will not be shunned, and will not be silent.

It’s no wonder Biden is desperate to convince young voters to hold their noses and vote for Democrats this fall. After all, the past few years have been characterized by near historic dissatisfaction with both political parties, especially among young people. Nearly half of people under 50 wish there was a third party to choose from. And about 45% of people between 18- 29 see socialism as “at least somewhat positive,” compared to only 40% who see capitalism as “at least somewhat positive.” In this context, the Democrats are making a direct appeal to young people: come back to the Democratic Party. Come back to lesser evilism. Believe once again that the system can work to defend oppressed people. Believe once again in the Democrats’ promises to protect abortion rights. They want us to believe that there is no alternative for those who wish to fight for reproductive rights, or for any of the other rights currently under attack.

Despite the fact that many people, seeing no other choice, will indeed vote for the Democrats in the hopes of staving off the Right, it is an open question as to what degree focusing on restoring the provisions of Roe will work for the Democrats. With the working class feeling the sting of inflation, Biden’s own poll numbers are still quite low. Races in states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona are quite close, with Trump-endorsed candidates closing in or outstripping Democratic candidates. Underlying all of this is the fact that one way or another there is mass dissatisfaction with the economy, and more generally with the direction the country is moving in.

Democrats Use Abortion as a Bargaining Chip 

While the attacks against abortion rights are coming from the far right, the Democratic Party has not only refused to protect reproductive rights, but has also participated in attacks. They had a super majority under Obama and did not codify Roe, despite their promises to do so. They have a majority under Biden now, and they did not codify Roe, instead choosing to respect the undemocratic and racist filibuster. And they are currently spending millions bankrolling and propping up the far right

Meanwhile, the party has continued to support anti-choice Democrats – like Henry Cuellar, even after Roe was overturned. Nancy Pelosi was clear that these anti-abortion rights politicians were welcome in the party.

It was also the Democrats, who in 1976 voted to support the Hyde amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds for abortion care, forcing low income people on Medicaid to pay for abortions out of pocket. And in the more than forty years since they have continued to uphold the law. Because the legislation is widely unpopular, especially after a national spotlight has been thrown on abortion access in recent years as the right advances attack after attack on reproductive rights, many Democrats – including Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden – have finally reversed course to say they do not stand behind the Hyde Amendment and support overturning it. But their posturing means little as the Hyde amendment continues to stand today. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of poor and working class people remain unable to access crucial reproductive healthcare services.

Refusing to stand up for reproductive justice nationally and unequivocally as they claim in their campaign speeches, they have instead pushed the fight for abortion access to the individual states in hopes to get a midterm boost. Particularly in states where trigger bans have already been instituted, this has limited many people’s hopes of saving what little abortion access was already in place to relying on individual Democratic politicians and NGO bureaucracies to push for referendums on the issue or to ask the courts to block bans from going into effect.

But none of these efforts will ever be enough to ensure that abortion is legal, free, safe, and accessible to all. And they are undermined by the fact that they are tied to the Democratic Party, which is happy to use trod out abortion rights every 2 years in order to mobilize their base, later ignoring or backtracking on their campaign promises. As an institution the Democratic Party would rather use abortion access as a political tactic to turn out the vote and keep them in power and keep up the illusion that they represent the interests of the exploited and oppressed. Roe was won by struggle of millions of feminists around the country; and it will be struggle, not voting, that finally wins our right to free, safe, and legal abortion on demand.

Inflation, Anyone?

Importantly, Biden’s speech about abortion rights did not mention the economic situation facing millions of voters across the country, even though inflation is similarly an attack on the living conditions of the women, trans folks, and Black and Brown people who Biden claims to protect.

U.S. Inflation rose to 8.2 percent last month,  with the price of daily necessities like groceries skyrocketing. Meanwhile, corporate profits keep climbing. Further, the Fed is not mincing words: they plan to make the working class pay for the crisis by increasing interest rates in a desperate bid to slow the economy, a move that may very well lead the U.S. and the world into another recession. 

And yet, Joe Biden and the Democrats want people to focus solely on abortion and use the fear of the Right to fuel their votes, ignoring the fact that these issues – which are at the top of people’s minds – are interconnected and both represent attacks on the material conditions of hundreds of millions of people living in the United States. And ignoring inflation while centering abortion rights has the potential to drive entire sectors of the population into the arms of the far right, who cynically claim to care about the working class and the economy while attacking their rights to healthcare, to vote, even to exist.

While the politicians want to separate economic demands from the demand for reproductive rights, the reality is that they are deeply intertwined. Whether or not and when to have a child is a choice that every pregnant person should be able to make. The majority of people who seek abortions are worried about the toll a child will take on their economic situation in a country that charges people thousands of dollars to give birth and hundreds of thousands of dollars more to raise a child to adulthood. The ability to make a living for yourself and your family is part and parcel with the struggle for reproductive justice; and it will be low income women, people of color, and young people who will be most affected by inflation as the Fed continues to target wages to cool down the economy. 

Enough Lesser Evilism 

The Democratic Party has not and will not defend abortion rights. For decades it has stood by and allowed, and even sometimes facilitated, the erosion of abortion rights for millions of people, undermining the work of activists who are fighting to protect abortion rights and guarantee reproductive healthcare. Alongside the Republicans, they rule in favor of the wealthy and the capitalists, passing policy after policy that opens new avenues for the exploitation of hundreds of millions of working and poor people. Yet they still want us to believe their empty promises in order to win another election, trotting out the same promises and rhetoric two years from now. 

The truth is that if we want to win free and accessible abortion care for all and fight back against the threat posed by inflation to our living conditions, it won’t be by relying on the Democrats. It will be by building a movement in the streets, organizing protests and actions like those that won the right to an abortion in Argentina. It will be by using the power of the labor movement and the new unions that have emerged to shut down workplaces for reproductive rights and against the cost of living.

But for this sort of mass action to advance and to be capable of building a force that can actually win our demands, we need a working class party of our own, and not just another electoral alternative. Such a party could take as a central task building the fight in the streets and workplaces, helping to build mass actions for reproductive justice, trans rights, and to stand up against the capitalists’ efforts to make us pay for the economic crisis. 

It’s high time that we had a party that fights for reproductive justice, as well as fighting for price freezes at pre-inflation rates, that fights for free, safe, legal abortion alongside wages that go up with inflation and a public healthcare system. We need a party that is by and for the multi-racial, multi-gender working class – not by and for the cops, the bosses, or the capitalist system. We need a party that fights for socialism, a society in which all the exploited and oppressed, those who make society run, are in control and can get what they require, not only to survive, but to be truly free.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

Madeleine Freeman

Madeleine is a writer and video collaborator for Left Voice. She lives in New York.

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