The United States is a dangerous place to be a woman. An onslaught of laws has chipped away at abortion rights since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president two and a half years ago.
So far this year at least 13 states have introduced bills to outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Now a new law in Alabama, effectively banning abortion, has hardened the battleground.
Jan, an activist in Michigan, told Socialist Worker that the bills are part of a bigger attack.
“Many states have been trying to put forward anti-abortion laws,” she said. “The long term strategy is to have laws that will be overturned in a lower court. Then one or many can be appealed and find their way to the Supreme Court.
“The plan is to have Roe v Wade reversed.”
Republican Alabama state representative Terri Collins admitted this is her goal. “What I’m trying to do is get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe Vs. Wade can be overturned,” she said.
Row v Wade was the landmark case in 1973 that made abortion a legal right. Right wingers have fought it ever since.
But the bigots are divided. Some want to rip out reproductive rights root and branch. But seven out of ten Americans believe that abortion should be legal.
So other right wingers think a better strategy is to try and undermine existing abortion rights gradually. For instance, many “heartbeat bills” that aim to outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected have failed.
But anti-choice politicians add other elements to the bills, such as forcing women to undergo counselling before they have an abortion.
If the “heartbeat” element is defeated, these restrictions can still become law. Even without laws, women’s access to abortion is limited.
There are only three abortion clinics in Alabama—a state with a population of 2.5 million women.
Yanica Robinson is medical director at the Alabama Women’s Centre for Reproductive Alternatives.
She said women face “many obstacles just related to their postcode and financial status”.
Many women undertake a six to eight hour drive to get to her clinic. Many sleep in the parking garage because Alabama law forces women to undergo counselling 48 hours before an abortion.
Yanica described how they face a battle “trying to coordinate time off work, come up with the finances and arranging travel”.
These women are not exceptions. Some 59 percent of Alabama women live in counties without an abortion clinic. In Republican-controlled South Dakota, for instance, that figure jumps to 79 percent.
Across the US, one quarter of women of reproductive age would need to travel at least 30 miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic. And the poorest are hit the hardest.
New Jersey activist Freya told Socialist Worker, “Women who are poor and working class have neither the resources nor the time to travel out of state to get an abortion.”
Most abortion care can’t be paid for by federal cash under the Medicaid programme, which the poorest rely on for help with medical costs.
And 26 states restrict abortion care for women who use discounted private insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act.
Attacks on abortion didn’t begin with Trump—424 abortion restrictions were enacted at state-level between 2010-18. But it’s no surprise that Trump—a billionaire who boasts of sexually assaulting women—has overseen huge attacks on choice. Trump demanded that women who have abortions should receive “some form of punishment”.
One of his first acts was to stop government funding to international organisations that provide information on or offer abortions.
He’s surrounded himself with vile anti-abortionists, such as deputy president Mike Pence.
Trump has also filled the federal judicial system with conservatives who want to limit access to abortion or stop it altogether.
Serra Sippal, president of the Centre for Health and Gender Equity told Socialist Worker that Trump has “hijacked the judicial nomination process”.
“This is a direct threat to far too many women’s lives,” she said. “We will fight it every step of the way.”
Both Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court are on the right wing of the Republican Party. The appointment of Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 mean the court now has an anti-choice majority.
New Jersey campaigner Fiona told Socialist Worker, “Gorsuch and Kavanaugh will have a negative and lasting impact on women’s issues. These white, conservative men are on the Supreme Court for life and are only in their 50s.”
Kavanaugh’s appointment boosted the bigots. The anti-choice group Ohio Right For Life refused for years to support a heartbeat bill there because it claimed the legislation would fail.
But soon after Kavanaugh’s appointment it threw its weight behind the legislation, saying it was a “much more favourable time” to pursue it.
The Alabama law is the first to directly challenge Roe v Wade. And it comes as the anti-choice minority are emboldened. But there is a long history of resistance to attacks on abortion rights in the US.
The fight for abortion rights was a big part of women’s liberation protests in the 1960s. Women set up their own abortion services. Pressure from campaigners lay behind Row v Wade. And the struggle continues today.
Within hours of the Alabama law passing, abortion rights groups chartered a plane over the state capital of Montgomery with a banner reading, “Abortion is OK!”
Two Alabama groups that support women accessing abortion services reported record donations.
And the National Network of Abortion Funds received donations of over £83,000 in two days—20 percent of their total donations for the last year.
Tough laws don’t stop abortions, they just make them dangerous. If Alabama’s law comes into force, women will die. That’s why everything has to be thrown at defending and extending a woman’s right to choose.
A challenge to Roe v Wade law
Roe v Wade is the 1973 court ruling that anti-choicers are trying to override.
Alabama’s new law potentially challenges the rights granted under the judgement.
Before Roe v Wade, individual states decided their own abortion laws. This left women with the prospect of backstreet abortion or travelling hundreds of miles to states where abortion was permitted.
Otherwise they faced carrying an unwanted baby to term.
In 1971 Norma McCorvey, known as Jane Doe in court documents, filed charges against public lawyer Henry Wade. Wade enforced a Texas law that banned abortion except in circumstances that threatened the mother’s life.
The Supreme Court decided by 7-2 that a woman’s right to abortion fell within the Fourteenth Amendment—relating to the right to privacy.
It ruled that, although a woman had a right to access abortion at any stage in a pregnancy, states could decide their own laws.
McCorvey was pregnant when she filed the case and later placed the baby for adoption.
Truth about ‘heartbeat’ law
The Alabama bill makes abortion illegal except where pregnancy poses a “serious health risk”. There are no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Doctors face 99 years in jail if they perform an abortion. The law is set to come into force in six months.
The bill was signed into state law by Republican governor Kay Ivey. She said it was a “powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is a sacred gift from God”.
Ivey admitted that the bill was likely unenforceable because of Roe v Wade. But anti-choicers are candid about their real intentions.
Terri Collins, one of the bill’s main sponsors, linked it directly to criminalising abortion.
“Fighting to overturn what I believe was a bad decision that allowed people to kill unborn children is worth a fight,” she said.
So-called “heartbeat” bills ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat is heard. Four states have signed heartbeat bills into law—but none survived legal challenges.
Steve Aden is chief legal counsel for anti-choice group Americans United for Life. He said these failures meant, “Efforts should be focused on bringing cases up to the court that they would use to erode or even overturn Roe.”
Angry bigots regularly resort to violence
Violence and harassment at US abortion clinics escalated in 2017.
The National Abortion Federation said, “Trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017.”
Mellissa is a clinic escort at the only abortion clinic in Mississippi. She said anti-abortionists “do everything they can to shame women, embarrass them and make this a more difficult experience than it needs to be”.
The backlash against abortion rights in the US has a global impact. One Marie Stopes nurse in Britain told Socialist Worker, “The decision in Alabama will give anti-abortionists in Britain even more confidence.
“At some of our clinics we already have anti-abortionists protesting outside almost every day. I have even heard of some colleagues being followed on their way home and threatened. These kind of behaviours will get worse.”