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We Need a Mass Movement to Defend Abortion Rights and We Need it Now

Texas is just the start. The Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe v. Wade and end the national right to an abortion. The Democrats won’t defend our rights. We need a movement in the streets, now.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

September 4, 2021
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In Texas, you can get $10,000 if you report someone for getting an abortion after six weeks. In fact, you can even get $10,000 if you report someone helping another person get an abortion after 6 weeks, which is not limited to direct service provision. Not only could the physician performing the procedure be sued, but so could the front desk staff at the clinic, or even the ride share service driver that took the person to the clinic.

This law went into effect on September 1, in Texas, which already had restrictive abortion laws. Some examples include a 24-hour waiting period between state-required abortion counseling and the actual procedure, parental consent required for minors, and abortion providers being required to show and describe the ultrasound of the fetus. Insurance plans don’t cover abortions unless the pregnant person’s life is in danger. There are currently fewer than 35 places to actually get an abortion in one of the largest states in the country — in 2017, some 96 percent of Texas counties did not have clinics that provided abortions. 

And now this law essentially bans the majority of abortions. It bans abortions after six weeks, which means missing one period, a feat to catch in time even for folks who don’t have irregular periods. In fact, 85 percent of Texans who seek abortions access care after the first six weeks. 

After six weeks, people in Texas will need to seek abortions in other states — which, in a huge state like Texas, may require a full day of travel. For low-income Texans living on the minimum wage of $7.25, who may not have a car or be unable to take the day off, this is a major or even insurmountable barrier. For undocumented immigrants, the barriers are even greater. There are border patrol checkpoints in Texas in cities near the border, making it difficult for undocumented immigrants to leave those areas without risking arrest or deportation. 

These punitive laws do not impact all Texans equally. Wealthy Texans will have the hassle of going to another state, but will likely ultimately be able to get care. However, working-class people, poor people, people of color — overwhelmingly Latinx and Black folks — will be left unable to access safe abortions. It’s those folks who will be forced to give birth, or who will seek out unsafe, illegal abortions. It’s those lives that are most at risk as a result of this terrible law. 

There is nothing “pro life” about forcing people into illegal and unsafe abortions. There is nothing “pro life” about Greg Abott, the governor of Texas who pushed through this law stopping coronavirus unemployment aid and who supports a racist border wall. 

While this is the most restrictive abortion law to be enacted, it’s not the only one. South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Idaho have also passed “heartbeat” abortion bans, and Arkansas and Oklahoma approved near-total abortion bans. These have not gone into effect yet, but it’s only a matter of time. 

The Supreme Court Strikes a Blow to Roe v. Wade

In fact, the Supreme Court, with this Texas case, has already dealt a blow to Roe v. Wade, and this is likely only the beginning. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court declined to block this outlandish law. This action creates a precedent for other states to pass and implement similar legislation. 

The ruling on this case was limited: the court claimed that the abortion providers questioning the constiutionality didn’t address the “complex and novel” procedural issues. So, the Supreme Court is allowing abortion vigilante-ism in Texas, and demonstrating that it has no problem questioning or even overturning the right to an abortion.

The court is also poised to hear a Mississippi case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which will essentially revisit Roe v Wade. The fact that the court will even hear this case is a big deal. In the past, the Supreme Court has refused to hear cases about abortion, indicating that Roe v Wade would stand. The fact they are hearing this case, alongside their decision in Texas, means that they are poised to overturn or partially overturn it.

Overturning Roe v. Wade would mean that 22 states would ban or severely restrict abortion access. Only 14 states and Washington, D.C. have policies that already explicitly protect the right to abortion if Roe is overturned. 

The undemocratic power of the Supreme Court is evident here — nine unelected people who have, from their mansions and beautiful Washington, D.C. offices, the ability to make decisions about the health and bodies of people all over the country. They have the ability to force people into birthing children, taking away the most basic right of bodily autonomy. 

Yet in the face of such a destructive bill, reproductive justice and abortion rights organizations have failed to organize a meaningful fight back. These groups, with their immense funding pools and national networks of non-profits, brought the case to the Supreme Court and hoped for the best — a surefire losing strategy. 

Maintaining the right to an abortion via a Supreme Court case was always tenuous. The right to safe abortion has been eroded through countless state level measures, like the ones that had already been passed in Texas. The number of abortion clinics has dwindled while restrictions have ballooned. An upcoming Supreme Court decision might be the nail in the coffin, but abortion rights have been dying a slow and painful death. 

The Democrats Refuse to Pass Abortion Legislation

Every four years, the Democrats demand that skeptical voters suck it up and vote for them, putting aside any criticisms from the Left. After all, we have to defend the right to an abortion, they say. But this is just a cynical ploy to get votes. It’s clear that these attacks are coming from the Republican Party, with varying degrees of intensity, who ally with Christian churches in order to enact patriarchal restrictions on healthcare.

 But the Democrats could pass legislation to legalize abortion and are choosing not to. 

The Democrats held majorities in Congress during Obama’s first term– a super majority in fact. And now, they hold a majority under Biden. So where is the legislation enshrining the right to an abortion in law? 

While they tweet their discontent, as Joe Biden did, or maybe even ask you to donate to local groups in Texas, the Democrats have the ability to protect the right to an abortion on the national level and simply refuse to do it. In fact, the Democrats don’t even see defending the right to an abortion as a tenet of their platform — after all, Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats don’t have to be pro-choice, and Bernie Sanders campaigned for an anti-abortion Democrat.

You might be interested in: The Democrats Did Nothing to Stop Amy Coney Barrett’s Confirmation

As a result of public outcry, Nancy Pelosi is taking her sweet time to bring up legislation on Thursday entitled the Women’s Health Protection Act. It will be passed in the House, but the bill is likely to die in the Senate. On the one hand, this is because of the undemocratic filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass anything. But the Democrats would love for you to believe that’s the only reason the bill will fail, and it’s absolutely not.

Even among the Democrats, they don’t have the votes to pass the bill. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia previously described himself as “pro-life and proud of it,” and “a lifelong abortion opponent.” In July, he sent a letter expressing support for the Hyde Amendment. Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania said, “I think it’s clear to most people that the description of pro-life Democrat is accurate. I’ve been very consistent.” Both voted with Republicans on recent anti-abortion bills.

We shouldn’t applaud the tweets against the Texas law by Democrats. They have the power to protect the right to an abortion, but choose not to since it would ruffle too many feathers of the Christian institutions they are also allied with. This put them, de facto, on the side of the anti-abortion activists because they, too, are taking an active role in allowing the right to a safe abortion to be taken away.

We Need a Mass Movement for the Right to An Abortion. Nothing Less. 

Based on this law and others that are currently pending, it is very possible that the Supreme Court is positioning itself to get rid of the right to an abortion. Despite all their rhetoric and hand-wringing, the Democrats are likely to maintain the ban by refusing to pass legislation protecting the right to choose. 

The response by many folks on the Left has been to call on people to donate to Texas abortion services, and social media feeds have been filled with such pleas. This is an understandable impulse — after all, folks need help in Texas now

But this isn’t just about Texas — the right to abortion is in danger everywhere.

And it won’t be fixed by working class people donating the little money we have to nonprofits, many of which end up funneling those funds into overpaid CEOs or election campaigns for the Democrats. 

We need protests for abortion rights, and we need them now

It’s jarring that nearly no protests were organized as this Texas law went into effect (but if you are in NYC and want to help organize a protest, hit us up here). However, we have examples to look to. 

There are powerful examples of feminist movements winning the right to an abortion. It took millions of people in the streets of Argentina over several years for a Catholic country, home of the current Pope, to legalize abortion. But they did it: Argentina legailized abortion as a result of a mass heterogenous movement. While the capitalist parties of all stripes had members of refused to support the right to an abortion, the mass movement resulted in a victory. 

It took mass protests organized by what were known as “women’s assemblies” where people proposed initiatives and demands and organized the protests. Socialist feminist groups like Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses) fought for these assemblies to call on unions to organize work stoppages as part of “Women’s Strikes” that occurred in Argentina and across the world. 

The last thing that Joe Biden, the Democrats, or the non profits that support them will spark is a movement that will rock the boat and make people question the system, like the BLM protests did last year. That’s why you see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeting about donating to abortion clinics rather than calling on people to rise up in mass protests. Even Democratic Socialists of America, with all their elected officials, ask you to donate, but haven’t organized a single national protest and very few local ones.

Our power is not primarily at the ballot box and or in our broke wallet. Our power is in the streets and in our ability as workers to shut it down.

We need a mass movement, and we need it now, for free, accessible, legal abortion on demand.

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

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

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