By ERWIN FREED
On the first day of September, Senate Bill 8 took effect in Texas. That bill, known popularly as the “Texas Abortion Ban” and officially as the “Texas Heartbeat Act,” criminalizes abortion once embryonic “cardiac activity” is detected. It is claimed that so-called cardiac activity in a fetus often begins as soon as six weeks after conception.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 85-90% of abortions in Texas occur later than six weeks. Many people do not know that they are pregnant until later in their term. The U.S. Supreme Court, meeting in a 5-4 decision in an emergency session on Sept. 2, refused to block the law. The law has no exceptions for victims who become pregnant from rape or incest.
Heart of lies
The far right has constructed a massive distortion campaign, often presenting false “science,” in order to win support for its backward ideas. It includes everything from billboards to fake “health clinics,” meant to take advantage of and harrass vulnerable people seeking objective information. “Pro-life” propaganda is a central part of anti-abortion bills in Texas and other states.
Bills like the one in Texas rely on a fake concept of an early fetal “heartbeat.” As obstetrician Dr. Nischa Verma explained to the Texas Tribune: “When I use the stethoscope to listen to a patient’s heart, that sound that I hear is that typical bum-bum-bum-bum that you hear as the heartbeat is created by the opening and closing of the cardiac valves. And at six weeks of gestation, those valves don’t exist. … Flickering that we see on the ultrasound, that’s super-early in the development of a pregnancy, is actually electric activity. And the sound that we hear at that point is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”
Opening the floodgates
The main legal protection for abortion procedures in the United States is the 1973 Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade. The logic of that ruling hinges on abortions being protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause and the “right to privacy.” While Roe v. Wade was won by a militant and mobilized movement for reproductive justice, the larger demands of the feminist movement, including an Equal Rights Amendment and free quality abortion on demand, were not achieved. Since then, the bipartisan ruling class has been chipping away at reproductive rights in every way possible. That includes not only massive attacks on abortion rights but also on social welfare programs.
Over the last decade, right-wing legislatures have persistently proposed bills making abortion access more and more difficult. The “liberal” wing of capitalist politicians has uttered big sighs of indignation, but due to their class position, they see the center of struggle in state capitols and courthouses—not in the streets.
That has led to a situation in which Planned Parenthood lists 18 states having “severely restricted” abortion access and an additional 11 where access is “restricted.” All 29 of these states are likely to either further restrict or outright ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Right-wing legislatures have been proposing bills that obviously contradict Roe for the purpose of overturning the original ruling in a new, perhaps more favorable, Supreme Court. Twelve other states have introduced bills similar to the Texas ban, but they have so far been blocked in the courts.
Controlling women’s and queer people’s bodies is an integral part of capitalism. The ruling class moves to ban not abortion in general but the ability to choose to have abortion. In reality “life” is not sacred to even the most religious capitalists. The 20th century saw mass sterilization campaigns of Black, Indigenous, Puerto Rican, disabled, and other women living in semi-colonies under the reign of US imperialism. There was also dehumanizing and often non-consensual medical experimentation carried out in BIPOC communities and in the semi-colonial world by imperialist medical companies. None of these practices have really ended, and their tendencies are baked into the system.
In the 21st century, the prison industrial complex is also a channel for modern day eugenics. Prison systems in Tennessee and California have had official policies in this century incentivizing incarcerated women to undergo sterilization. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was exposed as carrying out dozens of forced sterilizations as recently as 2020.
At the same time, abortion restrictions disproportionately affect poor working women and queer people of color. In Texas, around 70% of abortions are undergone by women of color and the new restrictions will make it virtually impossible for undocumented people seeking to terminate pregnancy.
The fight for reproductive justice includes the right to safe access to quality, free abortion on demand. It also means the right to give birth and raise children without having to worry about basic necessities like food, housing, education, and medical care. Part of the struggle for reproductive rights is the fight for reparations for historic and ongoing attacks against Black, Indigenous, and immigrant women, queer people, and their communities.
The Texas abortion ban contains a unique enforcement measure. Instead of relying on the state to police abortion access, the bill effectively deputizes the entire population against anyone seeking to aid in terminating a pregnancy. Empowered anti-abortion crusaders can earn a virtually unlimited amount of money through suing everyone who might be tangentially involved with an abortion. The abortion ban allows “concerned citizens” to sue anyone for who may be seen as aiding or abetting an “illegal” abortion. If the plaintiff wins the case, each defendant is liable to each pay them $10,000 plus legal fees.
The history of citizen deputization in the United States is a history of anti-Indigenous, anti-Black, anti-immigrant, and anti-worker violence. From local militias and posses carrying out actions against Native populations, to pre-Civil War slavecatchers, to the Ku Klux Klan, to violent strikebreaking, U.S. capitalism has armed and mobilized disaffected civilian forces to carry out the dirty work of the ruling class.
In recent years, this has included legalizing violence against protesters, fascist paramilitaries working with the border patrol, and the collaboration of white supremacist groups with police in repressing struggles for racial justice. Another manifestation of this dynamic has been far-right speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos “outing” and harassing trans community members and students on campuses around the country.
Not courts but struggle
In an attempt to maintain legitimacy, Biden, Harris, and other key Democrats have made a number of statements favoring women’s choice. Reports indicate that they are preparing to sue Texas over the abortion ban. But these measures are too little and too late.
As indicated above, abortion has already been severely restricted around the country, formal ban or not. Relying on legal suits in the court system is not the way to win abortion access and reproductive justice for all. Instead, working people need to internalize the lessons from history, including the social explosion from 2020. The only way to secure reproductive rights is through mass struggle in the workplaces and the streets. Such a struggle needs to be organized on a national level through mobilization centers with deep roots in unions, immigrant and BIPOC communities, and similar organizations.
As the United States moves backwards, the feminist movement is making gains internationally. Mass mobilizations in Argentina and Mexico have won abortion decriminalization in the last year.
Whether or not Texas sets the example for reactionary forces in other states or forms the turning point against a longstanding slide away from reproductive rights depends on the ability of working people to mobilize in the coming weeks and months.
Photo: Protest against the Texas anti-abortion law takes place in front of the state capitol building in Austin on Sept. 2. (Montinique Monroe / New York Times)