I collected signatures to legalize abortion on the streets of New York City in the 1960s. I never thought then that I would still be fighting in 2021. Today, the vicious assault on our lives has escalated.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his bounty-hunting bully buddies are on the prowl for people seeking abortions, abortion providers and anyone who aids them. Texas law SB 8 bans abortion after six weeks, before many people know they’re pregnant. It enables private citizens — vigilantes — to sue providers or anyone for aiding abortion care for a minimum of $10,000 for each abortion. Outrageously, the Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the Texas law. Abbott and his posse took their cue from a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy that is now before the high court. Texas has now also banned abortion medications.
Both the Texas and Mississippi laws are unconstitutional under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally. If overturned, a wave of laws will be triggered making a person’s right to control their bodies a crime.
The misogynist lawmakers are emboldened by the 6-3 majority of right wingers to liberals on the Supreme Court. Yet even when liberals predominated, numerous decisions have eroded reproductive rights and set the foundation for a potential overturn of Roe.
Washington state has a strong history of victories for reproductive rights. In 1970, it became the first and only state to legalize abortion through a popular vote, three years before Roe v. Wade. This fight was initiated by women of color in antipoverty programs working with members of Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party.
In 1991, Washington voters passed a law that further strengthened a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy any time before the fetus is considered viable, meaning when it can survive outside the womb. That’s a gestational age of about 24 weeks. Washington law also allows pregnancies to be terminated even later if doing so would protect the health or life of the birth parent. Unlike other states, Washington allocates state Medicaid funding for abortion.
But access is difficult in Central and Eastern Washington where there are few clinics. Some clinics in Western Washington have also closed. Washington currently has 19 abortion clinics — down from 95 in 1982, 65 in 1992 and 33 in 2014. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly 59 percent of Washington counties had no clinics that provided abortions as of 2017. Open clinics are regularly harassed by anti-abortionists and Proud Boys.
If federal law no longer upholds abortion access, what would it mean for Washington? Pregnant people from more conservative states will travel to Washington for abortions. But this option will do little for the poorest people in the country who do not have the time or money to travel. Washington laws could also change quickly under a more reactionary governor and legislature. Our haven will not last long in a country where abortion is not protected.
We must get active now to challenge the ultra-right! And that means opposing their bigoted program on all fronts.
Entrenched opponents of people’s right to control their own reproduction will never be reconciled to ending gender oppression and will resort to violence to hold back progress. Many of them are also enemies of progress for other intersectional communities, such as people of color.
The Ku Klux Klan operated as a lawless shock troop of the white aristocracy to rain terror on Black people. A century later, clinic fire bombers served as the terrorist arm of the right-to-life movement after Roe v. Wade became national law. Unable to overturn legal abortion with vigilantism, misogynists then turned to legislation and lawsuits to undermine reproductive rights state by state.
The right wing has stepped up assaults on abortion rights, transgender folks and those who identify as non-binary or LGBTQ+ — anyone who upsets the hetero-sexist status quo. Immigrants, voting rights and labor unions are also in the ultra-right crosshairs. Why? To keep workers underpaid and women in the kitchen, instead of demonstrating in the streets for increased rights, civil liberties and living-wage jobs.
We must stand and fight together. Answering today’s rollbacks, we in Radical Women have been building a national coalition to defend reproductive justice. On Oct. 3, we organized a Seattle march and rally titled “Not the church, not the state.” A former clinic staffer spoke, over the howls of anti-abortion men: “We have the fundamental right to safe, unapologetic, unashamed, federally funded abortion care…to repeal the Hyde Amendment…to increase access.”
Public officials and the courts will not do this for us! To win requires building a massive, militant and multi-racial feminist movement to force judges and lawmakers to respond to our demands. And if we don’t want to repeat this fight generation after generation, we need to replace profit-driven, patriarchal capitalism with an economic system — socialism — that prioritizes humanity’s needs.
Our bodies and lives are on the line now. Washingtonians can’t stand by until our relatively protected status vanishes. Join the efforts of the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice at
https://ReproJusticeNow.org and get in touch at [email protected].
Adrienne Weller is a representative of Radical Women. She is Jewish American, a defender of abortion clinics, a
unionist, an anti-fascist activist and an advocate for Palestinian rights.
Read more of the Dec. 22-28, 2021 issue.