Texas Law Triggers Nationwide Attack on Women’s Right to Choose
by Marcus Otono
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 – SB8 – took effect on 1 September which prohibits terminations after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, around six weeks into a pregnancy. There are no exceptions made 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 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 itself – 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 makes his victim pregnant could claim money in a civil suit, despite their criminal conviction for rape.
The law sets the minimum pay-out in such cases 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 enforcement, we can expect legal restrictions on the Constitutionally protected right to an abortion to be in effect in as much as half the country.
Indeed a series of legal challenges is already underway. Though U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman ordered a preliminary injunction against enforcing SB 8, agreeing with the Justice Department that the law was unconstitutional within a few days the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended this. The Republican Texas Attorney General invoked the separation of powers, claiming the Department of Justice had no right to intervene in the case since SB 8 is enforced not by the state, but by private citizens — a feature deliberately designed to make it difficult to challenge in the court system. Meanwhile the Supreme Court is due to open hearings on the abortion law in Mississippi which could open the way to an assault and potential overturn of Roe v Wade.
A Class Issue
History shows that these reactionary laws will not stop abortions from happening, but rather force women to seek the operation out of the state or through undercover and/or unqualified practitioners with enormous dangers to the women concerned.. These dangers will disproportionately hit lower income, rural and minority women of color. Not only will women seeking abortions have to face the costs of traveling to a distant location, but also the risk of still being sued as a consequence.
As was the case before the landmark Roe vs Wade decision in 1973, wealthier women will be able to overcome these impediments more easily than their less well-off sisters, thus reinforcing the class inequalities of capitalist oppression in the daily life of the working class woman.
These kinds of abortion restrictions are less about concern for an unborn fetus or ‘killing babies’ than they are about control over a woman’s reproductive freedom, the right to not have a child. As women are the ones who can replace one generation of wage slaves and soldiers (for the imperialists armies) 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 even if, and when, they become the minority.
The very methodology used against oppressed populations will also be used against strikes and labor 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 program 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 (1977) that bars federal funds being used for an 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 have always pandered to the “pro-life” side of the abortion debate back as far as the Bill Clinton administration. And today Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema even support the filibuster. In a polarized political climate like in the US and with only razor thin majorities in the US Congress, it’s easy to see how one or two regressive Democrats, along with a solid Republican wall of Senate votes can derail any attempts to enshrine abortion rights into federal law.
Given the undemocratic nature of the Senate in general, this type of obstruction has always been the way that the ruling class has controlled the levers of power in order to keep said power into their own hands and away from the rest of us. Twenty years ago, it was Joe Lieberman, today it’s Manchin and Sinema. Same methodology, different decade. It’s easy to see that the Democrats are fair-weather allies in this fight at best.
There have already been demonstrations against the “Right to life” crusaders, and they need to continue and become even bigger and more militant and of course legal challenges to every attempt like that in Texas are necessary but what is missing thus far from the fight is the organized working class. it is only unified action by the working class , men as well as women, 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 and other democratic rights that are under attack today.