It was shortly after 3 pm on Friday 24 June that I first got the message that I and so many other women across the world had been dreading. After 50 years the constitutional right to abortion in the United States has been overturned by the Supreme Court.
We have known it was coming since the draft opinion of the court was leaked on May 2. We feared it once Trump was able to appoint a third right-wing justice, Amy Coney Barratt to the court at the end of his presidency. But Friday 24 June is the day that women in a number of states will be turned away from health care facilities on the basis that their right to determine what happens to their bodies has been declared illegal. An analysis by the Guttmacher Institute predicts that 26 states are likely to ban all or nearly all abortions. (See here and here for more of the background as to how anti-abortionists have also been planning this over the long term.)
My friend and comrade Susan, currently visiting the USA and who had been checking news from the Supreme Court for weeks, was the first to message me but within a matter of 30 minutes I’d heard from someone in Paris, someone else in Mexico and someone else in Lambeth- whose son and daughter in law live in the US.
Everything else on my to-do list went out of the window as I frantically shared the graphic Abortion Rights had prepared some weeks back that once the decision was made there would be protests held that day in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. I’m sure pro-choice activists in other parts of Britain are also planning action. As Beth Douglas argues here, what happens in the USA has a profound impact on the fight for bodily autonomy across the globe.
Checking my travel route to the embassy, I realise I have a bit of time to read some of the opinion itself before I set off. Particularly concerning is Clarence Thomas’s opinion in which he makes clear that same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage are next in at least his sights. In the meantime interview after interview with anti-abortionists made clear that for many of them contraception is also a target. These people want to reinforce gender roles and force women into total responsibility for all the tasks of social reproduction. They want to impose The Handmaids Tale for real.
They distort reality in so many ways.
- Women and pregnant people have always and will always terminate pregnancies for a whole range of reasons. Our bodies, our lives our right to decide. What they make illegal is free and safe abortions.
- Calling yourself ‘pro-life’ when you have no concern for women’s lives is the height of hypocrisy. Pro-life that’s a lie, you don’t care when women die (most people chant if – I always chant when…)
- Many of these people are also part of the gun lobby when it is guns that are responsible for the death of actually existing people – including tragically large numbers of children
- Nancy Pelosi was right to point out the contradiction between federal and states’ rights: “Such a contradiction. Yesterday, to say the states cannot make laws governing the constitutional right to bear arms. And today, they’re saying the exact reverse that the states can overturn a constitutional right — for 50 years a constitutional right for women having the right to choose.”
With less than four hours’ notice, about 500 of us made it to the US embassy in Nine Elms to rage against the decision and plan how to continue our campaign of resistance and solidarity. Speeches were interspersed with chanting.
A sister from Malta reminded us of the horrendous ordeal of the woman who was recently refused an abortion there though she was miscarrying and only managed to get a termination because her travel insurance meant she was flown to Spain. That woman is from the US so could well be affected by yesterday’s decision.
Other siblings talked about the importance of trade union support for a woman’s right to choose. Abortion Rights vice-chair Judith Orr received a loud cheer when she pointed out that the RMT is one of the many unions affiliated with the campaign. She also recalled that it was the TUC that called the biggest ever pro-choice demonstration in Britain, against James Corrie’s attempt to restrict abortion in 1979.
Laurie Penny was her usual inspiring and motivating self – particularly clear about how the anti-abortionists want to restrict all the gains that women’s liberation has fought for. I wasn’t the only one that gave her the loudest cheer.
I had some concerns about the speakers from Democrats abroad who closed the rally. Like many others from the States and elsewhere their anger and distress were palpable. But the focus of their intervention, like those of many of their co-thinkers, was the mid-term elections in November. The fact that the fight for bodily autonomy is and will be a long one does not mean that we should focus primarily on the ballot box rather than the daily and bitter struggle to defend our rights on the ground.
But overall I came away further motivated by the fact that I had been able to express my anger and grief in a collective setting. The need to deepen labour movement support for Abortion Rights has rarely been more urgent. And I’m even more determined to make sure the ACR meeting this coming Thursday has the widest possible attendance so we can discuss the practical solidarity we need to step up for women and pregnant people in the united states – and across the world. Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate.
This Thursday 30 June 2022 19:30 BST
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