Democrats, Republicans attack women’s rights

- by Rebecca Doran

A common goal of the feminist movement has always been for the end of sex discrimination and abolishment of the second-class status of women. One of the most vital issues pertaining to this goal is the right to reproductive freedom and accessible health care, without which, women are constrained to the shackles of unwanted pregnancies, sickness, and an inability to function in society with the same facility as men.

In recent months, however, the right wing has stepped up its attacks against these rights to a new, more disturbing level. In what is being called another backdoor attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, a last-minute addition to the $338 billion spending bill signed by President Bush in November could have a serious impact on women’s right to reproductive freedom.

Without any debate, the so-called Abortion Non-Discrimination Act was attached to the bill. This act essentially legalizes discrimination against women, allowing any doctor, hospital, or insurer in the United States to refuse to perform or pay for abortions—or to even inform pregnant women that the option to end a pregnancy exists. And this means of discrimination can now extend to employers, who are in the position to decide which health plans their companies will offer.

The amendment to the spending bill is in line with the gag order President Bush signed on his third day in office that withholds U.S. aid from foreign health clinics if an employee even mentions abortion as an option. Although physicians who oppose abortion are not required by law to perform the procedure, the new policy allows anti-choice hospital chiefs to silence every doctor and nurse employed at their facilities in regard to abortion.

This discriminatory act overrides laws in California and other states that guarantee women the right to choose. Accordingly, on Dec. 8, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced he would go to court to challenge the amendment. He noted that it affects California more than other states because the state has strong abortion-rights laws and a constitutional right to privacy, which requires the state to remain neutral toward the options of childbirth and abortion, and to pay for abortions for low-income women under Medi-Cal.

Lockyer went on to point out that the state requires every hospital, including those that oppose abortion, to perform the procedure if childbirth would endanger the woman’s life. Under the new spending-bill amendment, however, enforcing this state law could require California to forfeit millions in federal funds.

On top of this new anti-abortion amendment, there are several other bills currently in the congressional hopper, such as the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. This bill was introduced by Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and was brought to life under so-called scientific research in connection with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, which has purportedly proven that an unborn child's response to pain is more intense than the response of an adult because the infant in the womb lacks the nerve wrappings and acquired psychological defenses that mitigate pain for adults.

Another bill before Congress, called the Post-Abortion Depression Research and Care Act, would legislate the manipulation of women with anti-choice propaganda under the guise of scientific and social research. The bill, which reads like a 1950s high-school psychology book, claims that “abortion can have severe and long-term effects on the mental and emotional well-being of women.”

It states: “Women often experience sadness and guilt following abortions with no one to console them. They may have difficulty in bonding with new babies, become overprotective parents or develop problems in their relationship with their spouses. Problems such as eating disorders, depression and suicide attempts have also been traced to past abortions.

“The symptoms of post-abortion depression include bouts of crying, guilt, intense grief or sadness, emotional numbness, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal urges, anxiety and panic attacks, anger/rage, sexual problems or promiscuity, lowered self esteem, nightmares and sleep disturbance, flashbacks, and difficulty with relationships.”

These measures by Congress and the White House have greatly emboldened the anti-abortion movement. In San Francisco, anti-abortion groups have announced the first-ever “March for Life,” scheduled for Jan. 22—the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In this historically pro-choice city, anti-choice activists have now found a basis on which to organize against women’s rights.

Pro-choice activists are planning a counter-protest action on the same date. So far, unfortunately, the major pro-choice groups in the Bay Area have been less than zealous in building the event. The main leaders of San Francisco’s pro-choice movement—like their counterparts nationwide—are tied closely to the Democratic Party, and generally subordinate mass-action activities in favor of campaigning for Democratic politicians.

Now an alarming trend has surfaced in the Democratic Party, which can lead only to a further deterioration of the already weak pro-choice movement. In light of recent election losses, leading party members have embarked on a campaign to appeal to anti-abortion voters and candidates.

Former presidential candidate Howard Dean, who says he supports abortion rights, proposed that the Democrats "embrace" anti-abortion voters and expand the term "pro-life" to such social issues as providing for children's medical care. "I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats. … We can have a respectful dialogue, and we have to stop demagoguing this issue," Dean, a candidate for Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman, said on NBC's "Meet the Press” in December.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has encouraged Tim Roemer, a former representative with a strong voting record against abortion, to run for the DNC. Brendan Daly, a spokesman for Pelosi, said the congresswoman would continue to be a vocal supporter of abortion rights in Congress, but would not oppose an anti-abortion party leader.

The Democrats' new minority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada, also stands in opposition to the right to reproductive freedom.

The unwillingness of the Democrats to uphold and extend women’s reproductive rights was seen during the 2004 election campaign. Sen. John Kerry stated during his bid for the White House that he would have no qualms about nominating anti-choice judges to federal posts. And some so-called pro-choice Democratic Party spokespeople emphasized that, like Kerry, they believe that “abortion should be rare.” This stance lends itself to placing restrictions on women who wish to get abortions, while giving support to the antiquated idea that women need to justify themselves or apologize to society for seeking to control their own bodies.

Unfortunately, these attempts by the politicians to better accommodate themselves to the religious and moral beliefs of the most reactionary sector of the U.S. capitalist class does not seemed to have discouraged the leading women’s organizations from supporting the Democratic Party.

Feminists, both women and men, must stand up and break from the suffocating restraints of both parties of the ruling rich. Given the current ferocity of the war against women’s rights, the old fear that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade might become a moot point, as abortion already will have been wholly banned by bills and amendments authored by both parties.

First published in the January 2005 issue of Socialist Action.
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