By CHRISTINE MARIE
Reproductive justice is under attack. Between now and the Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, expected in the early summer, we must take to the streets again and again, each time in greater numbers, to push back the reactionary assault on legal abortion, access to reproductive health, the increasing threats to criminalize Black women who miscarry, and to deport immigrants who seek out of state reproductive health care.
Supporters of reproductive rights must seize every local and national call for demonstrations in order to widen the circle of those joining the mobilizations, as only repeated mass actions, coordinated across the country, can push back this threat. We cannot rely on the courts. The Supreme Court, in its recent public hearing on the Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks and provides a bounty for vigilante lawsuits, indicated that its majority was predisposed to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent that made abortion legal in the United States.
We cannot rely on elected politicians. The Democratic Party, while stating its opposition to the Texas and Mississippi laws, has not given the green light to the Women’s March or other mainstream abortion advocacy groups to organize national mass actions of the kind that won legal abortion in the first place. Their strategy, as with the attack on Black voting rights, is unclear, but one can surmise that they see the attack on abortion as a potent election issue rather than a life and death matter that must be fought by any means necessary. We must make it clear that we are going to build such movement with them or without them.
We can only rely on our ourselves to create a groundswell of militancy expressed in united-front-type mass demonstrations involving Black women’s health organizations, immigrant rights organizations, labor organizations, churches, and other community groups.
As long as there have been restrictions on abortion, women of means have been able to find a way to get reproductive health care. Campus women are already being helped by advocates operating self-managed abortion assistance networks. Those most victimized by illegality and lack of affordable access are working-class women and marginalized birthing people, especially Black women, Native women, Latinas/x, the undocumented, the non-binary, and the disabled. If the Supreme Court invalidates Roe v. Wade, state laws will prevail. Texas is providing the model for those states that want to deny bodily autonomy as a fundamental right. Not only surgical abortion but medical abortion, including the mailing of misoprostol and supportive telehealth appointments, have been outlawed.
According to professors of law Robert L. Tsai and Mary Ziegler, the Texas law may end up spawning a surveillance network similar to the one that enabled slave bounty systems. “We can expect,” they say in a Sept. 23, 2021, New York Review of Books article, “that if the law is not struck down, more private individuals and groups will emerge as de facto agents in the enforcement regime. These abortion watchmen will monitor people’s movements, and self-appointed citizen enforcers may offer second-order bounties for difficult-to-obtain medical information and private communications that will now quality as relevant evidence in court.”
In Texas, the meaning of the law for the undocumented has already been made plain. Immigrant women, with and without papers, fear attempting to travel to another state for any kind of abortion as “inland ICE checkpoints” monitor traffic out of the Rio Grande Valley. Even for those with papers, failure to have the proper documentation or simple racism can result in deportation. Statistics suggest that a third of immigrants were sexually abused on their journey from Central America; obviously, some now seek abortions.
What about Mississippi? Black reproductive justice organizations that filed amicus briefs in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Heath Organization have broken down the reality of that state’s 15-week ban on abortion. They note that the historical context for Black women is, of course, “a long and ugly tradition of denying people of color reproductive autonomy.” Slavery was built on forced childbearing. In the 1960s, the “Mississippi appendectomy” resulted in the forced sterilization of, perhaps, 60% of that state’s Black female population. Black women in Mississippi are three times more likely than white women to die in childbirth. And Black women who miscarry due to inadequate health care are increasingly jailed for harming a “child.”
The fight for reproductive justice under capitalism has been unceasing, and the failure to secure it has been a nightmare for working people. The effort to create a mass movement devoted to abortion access, maternal health, and economic justice for all is a prerequisite for any real advance in working-class rights. Such a movement can strengthen the fight for a new economic and social system based on human needs rather than private profit.
Photo: Black Women’s Freedom March, New York City, July 26, 2020. (Giannella M. Garrett / NBC News)