Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2786

Fighting the US right’s war on abortion

As the Supreme Court ponders an attack on the Roe vs Wade ruling that underpins abortion rights in the US, Isabel Ringrose talks to those already on the front line of the resistance.
Issue 2786

At an abortion rights protest in Portland in October (Pic: Sabrina Gröschke (Flickr))

Bans on abortions only ever lead to one thing—more dangerous and sometimes even fatal backstreet procedures.

Now this, along with bounties over abortion providers’ heads, could become the reality in the US.

The US Supreme Court looks set to undermine the landmark Roe v Wade legal ruling that underpins abortion rights. It is expected to uphold a state law in Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks.

The Supreme Court has also refused to block the US’s most restrictive ­abortion law.

A Texas abortion law, known as Senate Bill 8 (SB8), is a near ­complete ban on abortion.

It prohibits abortions after six weeks and makes no exceptions for incest or rape.

Between 85-90 ­percent of abortions in Texas are obtained after six weeks. Before then, many women don’t even know they’re pregnant.

The number of abortions performed in Texas fell by roughly half in the weeks after the law went into effect.

And for the first time, citizens—including those from outside Texas—can sue those who violate the law and seek damages. Patients cannot be sued, but doctors, staff and even a patient’s Uber driver could be. The Supreme Court has twice declined to block the law. Then in December it allowed a challenge to the law to ­proceed, only to rule that abortion providers may sue some state ­officials in federal court.

Denise Rodriguez works with the abortion charity Texas Equal Access Fund.

She told Socialist Worker that the Supreme Court’s decision on the Texas law “was a very scary signal for us” and explained how abortion in Texas has basically been banned.

The situation in Texas could be the future for around half of the country’s states.

“Abortion was already out of reach for people in Texas,” she explained. “The Hyde Amendment in US law bars any type of government money to pay for any type of abortion care.”

Without access to universal free health care, the federal Medicaid ­programme offers public health insurance for people with low income. It covers one in five Americans.

“But no government money can be used to pay for abortions, so people on Medicaid cannot use their coverage to be able to get abortion care so they have to pay out of their pocket,” Denise said.

Texas legalisation also bans ­private insurance coverage of abortion. So, people who have private insurance cannot include abortion care in it.

Delays

Denise said surrounding states have become “overwhelmed” as a result. “They’re getting Texas’ patients and having to help their own. This is ­causing delays in getting appointments.

“The average wait time right now is about 2-3 weeks, and some clinics are booked up for the next six weeks. It’s really hard to get an appointment. Laws are forcing people to stay pregnant longer than they need to be.”

Denise explained that the base price for an abortion in the first trimester abortion is between £378 to £454.

“For a lot of people, ­especially people who call us, that amount of money is very much out of reach. The longer abortion care goes on for the more expensive it gets,” she said. “A lot of our callers have to access later abortion care because of the fact they’re having to save up. By the time they save up, it’s already more expensive.”

Because of state legislation ­doctors are also forced to show women ­fetal ultrasound scans and describe them in detail, as well as giving mandated “falsehoods about abortion.”

Denise said this includes being more likely to die by suicide and have breast cancer. “This ­horrible stigmatising was part of the restrictions that Texans already faced before SB8.”

“People might not have the ability to travel in Texas—more than 90 percent don’t have access to abortion providers,” Denise explained. “This impacts a lot of people in rural areas.

“You can travel 12 hours and still be in Texas, so being able to drive to get to a provider is made even harder for people.”

And “trap laws”—targeted regulation of abortion providers—makes it difficult to set up more clinics.

Denise thinks class and race play a big factor in the choices that people ­needing access to abortion are able to make. “The people generally able to decide are people who have more money and access to resources. Here that is ­generally white people and middle class people. That’s why we always include racial justice within our work.”

Denise says that the people who will be most criminalised for ­accessing ­abortion are “black, indigenous and other people of colour”.

“There’s an indigenous woman in Oklahoma right now who is being prosecuted because she had a miscarriage and they’re just assuming that she did it on purpose.”

Unconstitutional

Denise said that pushing anti-abortion legislation in the South was the tactic used by the right to get to the Supreme Court.

And although a lawsuit was filed against SB8 at state level and was ruled unconstitutional, “We now don’t know how that will impact the rest of the ­rulings,” Denise explained.

“They intentionally make it confusing like this because they don’t want regular people to know what’s going on. We try our hardest to explain to people what is happening.”

As a result, legality on paper is not enough. “Having a legal right to ­abortion means nothing if you don’t have abortion providers to get your care from,” Denise said.

“We want the courts to rule in our favour, but we want to move away from relying on court systems to protect our rights. This is something we need to get people to recognise.

“If the Supreme Court allows the Mississippi law to stand, states could use this to go after differing things. It could be LGBT+ marriage next. We need people to understand the systems aren’t working for us—they’ve never worked for us.

“We need to do things differently and advocate more boldly, including being more outright in our support for abortion.”

Abortion access is more than just being able to have rights on paper.

Supported 

“It’s about getting the care you need, not feeling ashamed and feeling supported,” Denise added. “We want to stop people having to hustle for their health care.”

“Right now we are making sure people know we exist and can get care. We’re doing everything we can to educate people on what’s going and the need to have abortion access,” Denise said.

“We’re continually fighting to pass laws to take away abortion barriers rather than reinforce them. The government has a ­responsibility to fund abortions,” Denise said. “We actively work for policies like Medicare for all to ensure that abortion is covered as part of that.”

Texas Equal Access Fund’s core ­mission is to help people get abortion care. In addition to the advocacy work, it funds abortions—even if that means going out of state.

“We provide financial support and also emotional support. We have a social worker on staff who is available to ­provide one-on-one support and also a peer support group,” Denise added.

The group also funds educational opportunities across Texas to help people organise for abortion and reproductive health rights “to build up a base of grassroots leaders.”

“We’re working with different organisations to educate folks on how abortion relates to everyone. We’re ­currently building relationships with unions to make sure that they know how SB8 impacts their members.”


We can’t trust the courts, there must be struggle on the streets

The danger of the attacks on abortion rights must lead to an even greater fightback to protect and expand existing services.

The Supreme Court justices are now debating whether to uphold a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks.

If the law stands, access to abortion for more than 135 million people could end. And some 21 states are already set to immediately ban or severely curtail access to abortions if the Supreme Court chooses to overturn or weaken Roe v Wade.

Roe is the 1973 court case that established a constitutional right to abortion. It ruled that states were prohibited from banning abortion in the first trimester at 12 weeks but it allowed individual states to impose restrictions later in pregnancy.

In the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v Casey the court added that abortion could only be restricted past the alleged “point of viability”, around 24 weeks.

Both of these cases went nowhere near far enough in delivering comprehensive abortion services that would grant women full autonomy over their bodies.

But both were considered groundbreaking and the fight is on to protect even the limited rights they granted.

Overturning

The argument the right makes to the Supreme Court today is that the US Constitution is neutral on abortion so the power to regulate it should lie with the states.

Yet seven in 10 people in the US are opposed to overturning Roe v Wade and 59 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.

What the court could decide is varied and complicated. The court may allow states to impose abortion bans earlier in pregnancy, but keep abortion as a constitutional right. Or abortion could cease to be a constitutional right. Restrictions could be put in place on when abortions can be accessed by eliminating the viability standard.

But at the first round of oral arguments in Dobbs, five of the court’s six conservative justices—out of nine on the bench—showed little interest in maintaining Roe while getting rid of viability.

They were focused on eliminating Roe, and the abortion right, entirely.

Justice Barrett suggested adoption services could nullify the need for abortion, by removing the burdens of “forced parenting”. And Justice Thomas challenged the notion that there is a constitutional right to abortion.

Advance

US Supreme Court justices are appointed by presidents and vote in line with their party. In March 2016 then-president Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority refused to conduct the hearings needed to advance the vote to the Senate.

Activists say the long-term Republican plan has been to get abortion rights overturned.

In the last few years, there have been explosions of anger over attacks on women’s rights.

The powerful potential for a mass movement was shown in 2017 when up to five million people took to the streets for the Women’s marches after the inauguration of Trump.

It’ll take a mass street movement on this scale, and larger, to force the court to uphold the right to abortion. This movement must also battle for the expansion of abortion services.

Without a fight the fundamental right to bodily autonomy for women and all those in need of abortion will be ripped away.

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