Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across 600 cities and towns in the United States on May 14 in defence of abortion rights.
The “Bans Off Our Bodies” protests were organised in the face of the “leaked” draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion.
The largest action, involving 20,000 protesters, was in the capital, Washington, DC.
It is likely that the Court’s anti-abortion reactionary majority will overturn Roe v Wade either explicitly or in fact when it rules on the issue next month.
'Summer of rage'
The demonstrations were called at short notice by Women’s March and supported by other abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood and Black women organisations. They kicked off a “Summer of Rage” that will lead up to the 2022 Women’s Convention in Houston, Texas on August 12‒14, organised by Women’s March in conjunction with Planned Parenthood Action Fund, UltraViolet, National Women’s Law Center, National Organization for Women (NOW) and Black Feminist Future.
Executive Director of Women’s March Rachel O’Leary Carmona told the Washington DC protest: “We have to see an end to the attacks on our bodies. You can expect for women to be completely ungovernable until this government starts to work for us.”
Demonstrators expressed their views in colourful ways on the signs they carried. One sign carried by many said “I had an abortion”, an expression of the mood of defiance and readiness to fight.
The implications for the rights of LGBTQI people were also expressed in the protests. Many are worried that the Court’s ruling could also mean a winding back of marriage equality, LGBTQI rights, contraceptive access and even Black voting rights.
Same-sex couple Lillian and Emi Penafiel, who were at one protest, told the New York Times: “They’re coming after all of it.”
The overthrow of Roe v Wade would leave it up to the states to pass their own laws on abortion. Already, 26 Republican-controlled states are ready to outlaw all abortions.
The Court has already upheld some state laws that restrict abortions so severely they are virtually outlawed — a sign of things to come.
If Roe v Wade is overturned and the states move to outlaw abortion, it is likely that only Democratic-controlled states on or near the west coast, in the north-east, with a few in the mid-west, will allow most abortions. Anyone needing an abortion in other states where it is outlawed will have to travel huge distances to get one.
Working class women, especially those on lower incomes, will find it difficult to afford to travel and get time off work. Black and Latino women would be hardest hit.
The NYT reported that in New York City, the demonstration began in Brooklyn, before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to a courthouse in lower Manhattan. Protesters carried signs saying “Stand With Black Women”.
DemocracyNow! reported on the Washington, DC rally, where Monica Simpson, the African American executive director of SisterSong, said: “We need you to get in this fight with us. We need you in every action. We need you in every state, in every place and everywhere in ensure that we have the reproductive justice we deserve.
“I know it’s a hard fight, y’all. I know we’ve got the long haul to go, but if we stay connected, if we stay together, then I believe we will win!”
Despite controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Democrats have failed to put forward a plan to preserve federal abortion rights even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, said DN! host Amy Goodman. This has resulted in growing public frustration with President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.
The Democrats attempted to introduce a face-saving bill — which they knew would fail — for a federal law to defend abortion rights after the Alito draft was made public. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin joined with Senate Republicans to block the bill. However, even if it had passed, the Supreme Court would have declared it unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats continue to support conservative anti-abortion Democrat, Henry Cuellar, in Texas, despite his long-standing opposition to reproductive rights, said Goodman. Cueller is running against a progressive in a Democratic Party pre-selection.
Renee Bracey Sherman, from the activist organisation We Testify — which is dedicated to the leadership and representation of women who have had abortions — told DN!: “I had an abortion when I was 19. It was one of the best decisions of my life. I was in a relationship that was toxic and unsafe, and I simply did not want to be pregnant, and I didn’t want to parent at that time. I knew I could have an abortion [under Roe v Wade at the time]…
“But I felt the stigma and the shame, particularly as a biracial Black women who had an abortion ... and didn’t see people talking about abortion access and the intersection of racism, anti-Blackness and lack of abortion access and how, for Black folks, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
“The same people who shame us for having abortions are the same people who shame us if we are single Black parents…”
Sherman is critical of the Democratic Party. “I have been an abortion activist for well over a decade, and I’ve seen a lot of broken promises to people trying to get abortions. During the [Barack] Obama years, when we saw all of the restrictions being enacted across the states, we asked if there was action that could be taken.
“And there were several times in which the [Democratic] administration said that abortion access wasn’t the front issue. In fact, policies that were racist and discriminatory, like the Hyde Amendment … which doesn’t allow Medicaid to cover abortion care, [were] not repealed…”
“Every time you see Black people getting free … you will see a lot of anti-abortion restrictions, because white people are afraid of the political power that Black people are able to get, and people of colour everywhere, and immigrants, undocumented folks, queer folks, all of us.
“They are afraid of us challenging the status quo and being able to decide if, when and how to have our families. So, all of this goes hands in hand.”
Republican and Democratic administrations have worked to roll back the gains won by the 1960’s radicalisation. Now, the Republicans are spearheading that drive. Having become the party of extreme reaction, they are attacking abortion rights, women’s rights, Black rights, including the right to vote and LGBTQI rights.
The establishment Democrats have not mobilised their base against these reactionary attacks. More and more people are becoming aware of this fact, which reflects the whole ruling capitalist class’s move to the right. The Republican spearhead allows the Democrats to look more moderate by comparison, but in fact they are part of the backlash.
In the United States there is no mass party of the working class and the oppressed, even a reformist one, to challenge the Republicans and Democrats. The only way forward is to support all examples of resistance, which can lay the basis to begin to form such a mass socialist party to challenge capitalist rule.