Bans off our Bodies Protest

On Saturday 14 May, I attended the “Bans Off Our Bodies Protest” organised by Abortion Rights, UK which marched from Parliament Square to the US Embassy in London (there were two main solidarity protests with women in the US yesterday, London and Edinburgh). By Susan Pashkoff.

 

I am going to be 62 in June and I am worried that I am too old to be able to do this. I was physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of both protests that I attended today. I am also extremely angry … one can be emotionally exhausted and still furious and that is my emotional state and I own it.

At the Bans Off Our Bodies protest in London, Democrats Abroad UK were there in very small numbers. I can compare their numbers to the protests against Trump’s election which was a massive protest in London. When I came home to check whether they had sent out notifications about the protests (in London and Edinburgh), I saw I had received one on the 13 May. Honestly, if you want a big crowd, you don’t send out a notification for a protest the day before; these protests happened all over the US and they knew they were happening in London and Edinburgh. So, their numbers were thin in a protest that could have been much bigger if they actually got their act together. But they haven’t and, yes, I wrote a lovely email to Dems Abroad UK asking them to explain why they screwed up so badly. I know about the protests because I am a member of Abortion Rights UK and the Abortion Support Network UK (which is a member of the National Network of Abortion Funds).  I am also disappointed in the turnout by the British Left, only three organisations were present at the London protest; I hope that is not the case in Edinburgh

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Bans off our Bodies Protest, London, May 14th 2022

People in Britain know that the garbage from the US flows across the Atlantic. ID cards for voting is just one example. Abortion in Britain is not decriminalised and requires two doctors’ signatures to obtain (as obviously women are too incompetent to make their own decisions about their bodies). A lot of hard work by women’s groups averted the elimination of access to abortion pills through telehealth in Britain which had been allowed due to the pandemic; there are anti-abortion politicians in Parliament and US fundies and anti-abortion groups have been financing anti-abortion protests here. Abortion access has been eliminated in Poland, we’ve stood in solidarity with Polish women and we will continue to do this when abortion rights are threatened. We stand in solidarity irrespective of the situation in Britain because is what we must do.

There will be more protests in solidarity with women in the US in Britain and Europe. These will be built by reproductive rights and reproductive justice movements; Democrats Abroad needs to be working with these groups. We want to stand in solidarity with women in the US, we know exactly what this means for American women and we also know who will be the most affected by this overturn of Roe and the question of abortion being sent back to the various states. We will stand in solidarity with women in the US with or without Democrats Abroad, but they really need to get their shite together. I am beyond angry … and the presence of armed police (they don’t exist in London) at the US embassy patrolling our protest just added to my fury.

At these protests, I also realised that I am grieving. Yes, I am furious and yes, I had predicted this would happen (see, e.g.here) and that the only thing we needed to know was how the SCOTUS was going to overturn Roe (and Casey) as that could have an even greater impact beyond women’s bodily autonomy (and yes, that is bad enough). Really, the overturn of Roe was no surprise for me at all, I was expecting it, the obvious dehumanisation of women was a political programme of the Republicans. Yet I am furious, emotionally bereft and I realised at the protest, that I am grieving. My reaction is similar to when my parents were dying and I knew they were dying and yet when it happened, my reaction at the loss of my parents of intense grief mirrored my reaction here. The whole “we’ve got things to do, there is no time to sit and cry” because at the end of someone’s life, the family needs to make sure that everything needed to tie up all the business of death is inevitable. So, you keep going, you organise funerals, you clean out their homes and you go forward. At least, that is my experience; your grieving comes when that is finished and you are sitting there and you realise you will never see your loved one again.

The similarity in grieving between the death of a beloved family members or a human being murdered either by loved ones, strangers, police or occupying forces differs.  Death is a part of life; losing a family member in peaceful circumstances differs from the loss due to injustice and violence. For example, the murder of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli army and the violent attack on mourners at her funeral created both grief, horror and anger for me. Feelings of injustice and anger always overcome that feeling of grief and motivate me to fight; that is how I respond to situations like this. We fight to prevent this happening again; what happens is the result of oppression, repression and hatred. That was my reaction to the murder of George Floyd, furious anger and standing together with people in solidarity to the inherent racism that led to his murder by police.

In the same way, the SCOTUS overturning both Roe vs Wade and Casey vs Planned Parenthood, has resulted in not only grief but also overwhelming anger. Honestly, I am surprised at both how sad and angry I am; I knew it was coming. But while my grief surprised me, my anger remains and that is not something that I can suppress as easily as grief. We fight … we fight because we have no other choice. We fight so that all those that want abortions can get them legally, safely and free at the point of demand. We fight because this is literally a matter of life and death. The fact that this is being done by an unelected SCOTUS is infuriating, but the fact that 26 US states will ban abortion once Roe is formally overturned in June/July.

A succession of failures

For 49 years in the US, abortion remained legal and hence safe, but for many women, it remained inaccessible especially if the state they were living in did not allow Medicaid funded abortions. That is a failure of the mainstream liberal feminist women’s movement and that is a failure of the Democratic Party at the state and national levels.  

The fact that the Dems never stopped the Hyde Amendment as a rider to legislation, under Bill Clinton, rape and incest were added to the Hyde Amendment but since 1976, but they never blocked the Hyde Amendment. The Democratic Caucus has anti-abortion members; given that the Republican Party has long held an anti-abortion position openly since Ronald Reagan was President only demonstrates their failure to treat women’s health seriously. The fact that they never passed the Women’s Health Protection Act even though they had a decade to do so, is their failure and it has now become our tragedy.

Two failed votes in the Senate this year (and they knew they were going to fail) will never make up for decades of failure. They knew the danger of the filibuster in the Senate and they sat on their hands allowing a piece of Jim Crow Legislation to remain in place. So, when the Dems say they will fight for us; I think where the f**k were you since 1973 Roe was decided which you never codified it into law?

Decades late and a dollar short and that is the main characterisation of the Democratic Party for me. I wish I could say that it was only abortion rights that they have done this to, but that is not the case; anti-racism bills like an anti-Lynching bill only were passed this year, racist and misogynist police violence continues and people of colour are dying due to that failure, access to health care for all still doesn’t exist (rather than extend Medicare or Medicaid to all, they put forward the Affordable Care Act) and of course, bills to stop the production and use of coal and other fossil fuels still do not exist and worse the US refused to sign onto any agreement at the COP26 to do so. While they claim to care about these issues so little has been done of significant impact, that the country has failed so many of its citizens and migrants.

People are probably wondering why I am so angry at the Dems and not talking about the misogynists in the Republican Party? When I was young, the party platforms did not have the divide between pro-choice and anti-abortion. Some Dems (like Joe Biden) never supported access to abortion and some Republicans did. The Republican shift to a fully anti-abortion party comes when the Christian Right entered the Republican Party and the fact that the Republicans are now an openly misogynist political party that have created this openly misogynist SCOTUS (and yes, there are women that are misogynists and one is sitting on the SCOTUS). The Dems purport not to be this, yet Hyde was allowed to stand since 1976 … one would think that something as basic as bodily autonomy for everyone must be stated in the US Constitution or in Federal Law… and yet, it is not there.

To be honest, I do not trust the Democratic Party to “rescue” women; we need to stop looking for “rescue” from mainstream politicians and we need to make our own history! We need to create a future and we need to stop relying on mainstream politicians that have let us down time after time. It seems that I am not the only person that is disgusted with both Biden and the Democratic Party failing to do anything on securing abortion rights.

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We have never been able to depend on the Democratic Party and its leadership has skewed to the right since Clinton. Their failures and the complicity of the white liberal feminist movement (they were covered, they didn’t have to worry about paying for their abortions) has created the tragedy we are going to experience soon. While abortion was “legal” there was never guarantees throughout the whole of the US of access to a wide range of contraceptives (including voluntary sterilisation) free at the point of demand, people of colour and the poorest American women could not access abortion legally due to the existence of the Hyde Amendment, health care for women and children was not guaranteed, and if we are talking about reproductive rights instead of reproductive justice we are not hearing the voices of all women. The women’s movement needs to be led by sisters of colour who voices have been largely ignored and silenced. We need to stand together and fight in solidarity recognising the impact of racism, class, and disablism along with gender. We cannot elevate one oppression over another as these oppressions interact and have impacted women historically and currently in different ways. We either stand together or we fall into barbarism and it is barbarism which is winning currently and that is not only in the US.

The ideology of the right in the US

First, we really need to stop referring to the far-right on the SCOTUS as conservatives. I have had it with this mislabeling of the right in the US as conservatives. There is nothing conservative about them. If you think originalism is a conservative philosophy, you are wrong. The law and its interpretation change over time; the argument that the word abortion never appears in the US Constitution as a justification for overturning abortion right makes any sense in the real world is absurd. This interpretation of the Constitution supported by the Federalist Society is far outside the mainstream of legal interpretation and politically is of the far right. During the confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson, some Republicans were actually arguing that she was on the hard left because she didn’t believe in originalism as though that that right-wing yardstick was necessary for a judicial confirmation.

Second, when the US was formed, slavery was legal and slaves and Native Americans were not seen as human beings, this is reflected in the US Constitution. The Amendments to the Constitution during the Reconstruction Era altered the non-humanity of slaves and granted Civil Rights like due process and equal justice under the law. Women didn’t get the vote until the early 20th century and Jim Crow Laws prevented blacks from accessing their civil rights. Racism, class and misogyny were enshrined in the US Constitution from its beginnings and while there was reform, those reforms are under attack today in terms of attacks on voting rights, freedom of protest and assembly, the right of due process and equal justice under the law and, of course, the right to bodily autonomy. The right to bodily autonomy (or property in our bodies) was discussed at the time when the US was created – it appears in John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government; but that would have outlawed slavery and granted universal suffrage and that was something that the so-called founding fathers did not support as they were slaveowners and did not want to give the non-propertied the right to vote because they were terrified of the “mob” because that would have threatened the dominance of the ruling class. Understand that and you can understand why racism, misogyny, disablism and class still prevail in the US.

The right of bodily autonomy for all must be part of the legislation in states, in their constitutions and the US constitution and yet it is not there except in a few State Constitutions like Kansas and this is due to the struggle over whether Kansas would be a slave state or a free state and the free state people won and enshrined this right in their State Constitution (much to the horror of the far-right, misogynists and anti-abortion supporters in Kansas. Similar laws may exist elsewhere and the right to privacy probably exists in other state constitutions as well; like in Georgia.  

Third, the overturn of Roe will affect women differently in different states. While women that are wealthier and have higher incomes will still be able to travel to get an abortion in another state or country (that was the case before Roe), the same does not hold for poorer women whom are predominately women of colour, women working part-time are the majority of part-time workers (there are no holidays or sick days for part-time workers and their incomes are far too low to enable them to risk losing their jobs), those in traditional cultures may not be able to travel on their own either due to religious restrictions. You risk exposure if you tell the wrong “friend” or neighbour. The threat to prevent women who are seeking abortions from leaving the state (which is part of some anti-abortion legislation and bans) is not only a violation of privacy (which we know doesn’t matter to them at all), but it will mean that women could be stopped when they are leaving the state either by plane, train or car. Will we have to prove that we are not pregnant to travel? Will they enter trains demanding women show documentation that they are not pregnant? Will states banning abortion block all roads exiting the state to ensure there is not a pregnant woman in the car? This goes way beyond abortion rights and means that women’s free movement will become restricted. This also makes me extremely concerned about the Texas Law that allows bounty hunters to bring a civil case against those helping women get abortions. The court has yet to rule on this and this is extremely dangerous to women’s everyday lives … as an understatement.

We know that our protests will not stop the SCOTUS overturning Roe and Casey, what we need to do is fight at the local, state and national levels. That doesn’t mean only working electorally to rid the Republicans of their seats at the state level (although that will be useful). We need to support women organising in states and at the national level to protect each other and stand together against the upcoming tragedy that we will be facing.

Fourth, unfortunately, the Roe and Doe SCOTUS decisions has impacted women in a differential manner. The failure to eliminate the Hyde Amendment is a stain on all politicians that claim to support women’s reproductive rights. The failures that have occurred are due to two things, 1) reproductive rights have been treated as negative rights; and 2) the lack of solidarity between the liberal feminist movement and movements of women of colour still fighting to ensure that access to reproductive rights applied equally to all women. The reality of historical and current differences in class, the impact of racism and disablism, and the roles of culture, and religious differences have always meant that women have different needs and desires with respect to their reproductive choices.

Understanding the central role of racism in American history and its impact upon the economic status of people of colour, it should come as no surprise that women of colour have had different treatment to white women when it came to their reproductive decisions. The genocide of Native Americans in the US included the forced sterilisation of Native American women following childbirth. Forced sterilisation was also a tool against black and Latina women, as well as the disabled and white working-class women. While wealthier white women struggled for voluntary sterilisation without their husband’s permission, women of colour were fighting against forced sterilisation. We must adopt the perspective of reproductive justice and stand with women of colour, women with low incomes, disabled women and remember that what we want to do is to remove the constraints as much as possible on women to ensure that they can make decisions about their reproduction (i.e., if, when and how many children they have) knowing that there are economic, social, cultural and political constraints and these are part of the Capitalist economic system and how functions.

We know abortion bans never stop abortion, they continue. They are driven underground; and that makes them unsafe and illegal. Even with abortion pills, access is being denied as part of abortion bans.

I had expected the overturn of Roe (it was evident in the transcripts from the Oral Arguments on Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization) and this was the objective of the far-right and Christian fundies since Roe was decided in 1973. But there were other important things that needed to be known, specifically on what terms they would overturn. The leaked preliminary majority report drafted by Samuel Alito is frightening to be honest.

While he insists that this decision only affects Roe vs Wade and Casey vs Planned Parenthood because there is nothing said about abortion in the US Constitution, we need to remember that the term Right of Privacy is not in the US Constitution either. It was upon the Right of Privacy that Roe was decided following on the decision in Griswold vs Connecticut (1965) that the government has no compelling interest in interfering in a decision on the use of contraceptives by married people. A number of other decisions also rest on Griswold and if the criteria is that that right does not exist in the Constitution, a whole host of decisions will fall as well around contraceptives use, on gay sex and possibly gay marriage.  Moreover, Alito’s argument rests on the fact that the 14th Amendment did not raise the right to abortion in 1866 (ratified in 1868) and hence there is no historical support that the 14th Amendment covers this (p. 5).

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politico

On page 25:

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Moreover, Alito argues that the various cases used as precedent for Roe and Casey do not justify the right of abortion, so on page 31:

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On pps 33-34, we see the demands of those opposed to abortion making an appearance,with a pat on the head to Amy Coney-Barrett on adoption (during the Oral Arguments, she mentioned adoption repeatedly) which honestly led me to worry that the far-right actually view women as incubators for children they want to adopt. This seems to be the case and it has answered a question that I have had since I met Randall Terry (founder of Operation Rescue) when I was at university.

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It is hard to decide what is more frightening, being told that because abortion rights were not recognised as law in 1866, the 14th Amendment can not be used to justify abortion rights today or the acknowledgement that because more people want to adopt children that our job as women is to ensure they have children to adopt. It is also extremely surreal (at least I think so) that Alito is comparing the behaviour of people who want to have a child and looking at its sonogram and the behaviour of women who do not want to have the foetus they are carrying. If he really sees an equality in this comparison, he is missing the whole point behind the notion of choice and women’s bodily autonomy. Yes, he is a man, but this is actually a demonstration that he is not understanding the basic fundamentals of the situation. In fact, I would argue that his ideology has led him to make a stupid argument that is nonsensical in the light of reality. 

This is not merely a denial of women’s agency and bodily autonomy; it restricts our rights to ensure the fulfilment of the dreams of people to adopt children. There is an extremely weird discussion on the notion of the quickening (a religious belief of certain religious sects) and whether this discussion allowed for early abortion. What the hell is this; is there a separation between church and state in the US anymore? That does exist in the Constitution … and has no place in current legal dialogue and that is also the problem with arguing that something that existed in 1866 (where the law and the church were closely intertwined which is also the case in English Common Law which is referred to in the preliminary judgement) … this is why viewing the law from the lens of the past is absurd; human beings and their societies have changed over time and this is the fundamental problem with originalism.

One of the most worrying things that we know for sure about the right and the far-right is that they lie; I no more believe Alito’s claim that this will not affect other decisions than I believe anything that Trump says, or that Mussolini said. My concern has been and continues to be that not only will we lose the right of abortion; we will lose the right of privacy and then everything that has been won on so many civil rights decisions relating to the 14th Amendment will be lost as well. The refusal of President Biden to do nothing but sit on his hands is beyond infuriating, but then I remember that Joe Biden never supported the right of abortion in the first place.

Joe Biden called it “the single most difficult vote I’ve cast as a U.S. senator.”

In 1982, he voted for a constitutional amendment that would have let states overturn Roe v. Wade, as Lisa Lerer noted in the New York Times. A practicing Catholic, he said at the time, “I’m probably a victim, or a product, however you want to phrase it, of my background.”

Some final thoughts

I was born in 1960, NY state legalised abortion in 1970 (under Nelson Rockefeller, Roe and Doe were decided in 1973. I remember the scuppering of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution irrespective of passing Congress and having wide support in the US. The introduction of the Hyde Amendment (a rider to budget bills) passed in 1976 and has never been eliminated till today. The backlash against feminism started in the late 1970s. It’s taken them 49 years to overturn Roe vs Wade and it is happening now.  This is the case even though Roe has never compelled anyone to have an abortion. It simply enabled women to exercise their bodily autonomy relating to their reproduction (i.e., if, when and how many children they chose to have). Moreover, this overturn is happening even though the majority of Americans support the right to an abortion. While Alito claims that sending the right of abortions to the states will enable people to express their political will, we know that is false and that is due to the nature of the two-party system with a first-past-the-post criterion for election. Combining that with voter suppression laws and gerrymandering means quite clearly, that the will of the American people is not heard despite the claims of the “greatest democracy in the world” which had legalised apartheid due to the SCOTUS decision of Plessy vs Ferguson and Jim Crow Laws.

What is also interesting is that the closer you look at the so-called “greatest democracy in the world” the less democratic it looks. Arguing that it is a federal republic and not a democracy does not change the reality that American democracy has always been a thin, weakened form of democracy where the will of all the people can rarely be expressed. That is the biggest lie of American politics which has always been poisoned by racism, misogyny, homophobia and disablism because it serves the interests of the system.

If you haven’t done so, join the local groups in your states that are part of the national network of abortion funds. If there is no group near you, join as an individual member:

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National Network of Abortion Funds builds power with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice.

You can also become individual member of the National Network of Abortion Funds (like me). This is the pledge you need to sign to join … we need to stand together to empower sisters in every way we can!

You can donate to different organisations in different states that are raising money to help women around the country access money for travel, support and abortions themselves. We must stand together in solidarity!


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