By Marcus Otono (Nashville, Tennessee)
Texas has become the testing ground for a new approach to the nearly 50 year-long battle over abortion rights in the United States.
A new law took effect on 1 September which prohibits terminations after the detection of a foetal heartbeat, around six weeks into a pregnancy. There are no exceptions for rape nor incest. Abortions will still be permitted in case of a risk to the mother’s life or health, but the exceptions are so narrowly defined that healthcare providers will interpret them conservatively in order to avoid being sued.
Texas is the latest of a series of states to enact reactionary abortion laws, following Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida, since the packing of the Supreme Court under Donald Trump’s presidency.
What is particularly pernicious about the Texas law are the extreme methods by which it will be enforced. Not only will abortion be outlawed, but the civil court system will allow individuals – including those from outside of Texas – to sue anyone they think is “complicit” in an abortion. This could include not only the doctor that performs the procedure, but even the clinic or hospital in which it took place.
The law is so open-ended that the partner of the person having the abortion could be sued if they provided financial assistance for the procedure. Even the Uber driver who drove the woman to the clinic could be sued. In the most extreme cases, the rapist who impregnates his victim could actually earn money in a civil suit, following their criminal conviction for rape.
The law sets the minimum pay-out in such a case at $10,000, plus court and legal fees. The figure in some cases could be even higher, while the plaintiff is protected by the law from being counter-sued.
Legislators in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida have already announced plans to write and pass laws based on the Texas precedent, with yet more states likely to follow. Given that the Supreme Court has already given its approval to the immediate implementation of this type of law, we can expect legal restrictions on the constitutionally protected right to an abortion to be in effect in as much as half the country.
A class issue
These laws will not stop abortions from happening, but rather force women to seek the operation out of the state. They will disproportionately affect lower income, rural and black women. Not only will women seeking abortions have to consider transport costs, but also the risk of being sued as a consequence.
As was the case before the landmark Roe vs Wade decision, wealthier women will be able to handle these impediments more easily than their less well-off contemporaries, enforcing and continuing the inequalities of capitalist oppression in the daily life of the working class woman.
These kinds of abortion restrictions are less about an unborn foetus or ‘killing babies’ than they are about control over a woman’s reproductive freedom, the freedom to not have a child. As women are the ones who can replace one generation of wage slaves and imperial soldiers with the next through procreation, they are rarely allowed in bourgeois society unrestricted reproductive freedom.
Such freedom would interfere with the smooth running of the imperialist, capitalist state. Alongside laws concerning the restriction of voting rights, restrictions on demonstrations, and unevenly enforced open carry gun laws, they are part and parcel of an overall plan to keep the white, patriarchal ruling class in power.
The very methodology used against oppressed populations is also used against strikes and labour actions by the working class, and indeed, any collective action taken by the people that interferes with the ‘right’ of wealthy white males to oppress the rest of us.
Despite having long been seen as a supporter of a woman’s right to choose, the Democratic party is hamstrung by the gerrymandering in the state and national legislatures and, crucially, a lack of any realistic programme for opposing the attacks on women’s rights. As fundamentally a bosses’ party, the Democrats can only offer as solutions, ‘vote harder’ or ‘donate more’.
In fact the party supported the Hyde amendment that bars federal funds being used for abortion, except in cases involving rape, incest and the health of the mother, and which inhibits a poor woman’s ability to fund an abortion under Medicaid. Some Democrats pandered to the “pro-life” side of the abortion debate during Bill Clinton’s administration. And today Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema even support the filibuster. So it’s easy to see that the Democrats are fair-weather allies in this fight at best.
What is missing from the fight against this law is the organised working class. Whilst the law may be overturned once actual cases are put to the courts, it is only unified action by the working class that can defeat the constant cycles of attacks on civil liberties by the ruling class. The 2018 teachers’ strikes showed how trade union and community action can stop the bosses’ attacks, even in states dominated by Republican politicians. We need the same degree of action across the US to defend women’s right to choose.