Top court attacks women
The recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminating a 35-foot buffer zone around clinics that provide reproductive health care, including abortions, was a stunning blow to women.
In a unanimous decision issued June 26, the court struck down a 2007 Massachusetts law that had mandated the zone, arguing that it had restricted “free speech” for anti-choice protesters.
Many critics point out that the justices meet in a building that prohibits any protests within 250 feet.
The ruling in the McCullen case was aimed at Planned Parenthood clinics in Boston, Worcester and Springfield, Mass. It may impact on other cities, but its full ramifications are not yet known. In any case, this ruling will embolden the anti-choice right wing and gives a green light to the most virulent among them.
This is not a free speech issue. This decision is a frontal attack on women’s right to access comprehensive health care — including cancer screening, check-ups, contraception and abortion — in safety, without facing gauntlets of harassers. It also opens up clinic facilities and personnel to more attacks.
This fear is not unfounded. Since 1991, there have been eight murders of staff members of women’s clinics and 17 attempted murders. Since 1977, there have been 7,000 bombings, invasions and other assaults on clinics.
In Brookline, Mass., outside Boston, the neofascist John Salvi fatally shot two Planned Parenthood clinic workers and injured five others in 1994. This act led to a buffer zone law in 2000 that was updated seven years later. The nine justices just nullified it.
NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts stressed that the ruling would further endanger women and health care providers: “This decision turns back the clock to the days when women were too intimidated by protesters to seek medical care. Women’s health will suffer because of it.” (press release, June 26) That is the ultraright’s intention.
The ruling sets back gains won through the efforts of millions of women over the last 50 years. Ever since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized the right to abortion, the right wing has schemed to limit and ultimately overturn it. If they can’t ban it, they push legislation to make the procedure impossible to access. The more virulent forces resort to violence against clinics and staff.
This ruling takes place in a reactionary climate that emanates from the wealthiest 1%. Politicians who represent right-wing billionaires carry out their political programs. Tea Party and other bigots spew racist, sexist, anti-gay, anti-migrant, anti-worker and anti-poor vitriol, which is repeated in the media and on the Internet.
Furious campaigns attack voting and other rights won for African Americans by the historic Civil Rights Movement. The government’s response to massive immigration is more deportations. Conservative legislators oppose minimum wage hikes and job programs, attack labor union rights, reject unemployment benefit extensions and decrease food stamp funding and children’s services. They seek to unravel Social Security and all essential social programs. Notably, more than 20 state governments refuse to expand Medicaid.
These attacks affect masses of women, especially those who are African- American, Latina, Asian, Native, low-income workers, immigrants, youth and students, the elderly and those with disabilities.
The courts are one arm of the capitalist government, which represents the interests of corporate owners and bankers. Notably, the Supreme Court has recently handed corporations unfettered powers to run rampant over the rights of workers, women and others.
The courts have ruled differently at various times; more favorable decisions are often issued in response to pressure by mass movements. The Civil Rights Movement, women’s, lesbian and gay, and labor movements pushed the Supreme Court to grant some rights. However, if not challenged by a mass movement, the courts usually revert to their reactionary role — especially in a period like today when right-wing billionaires seek to turn back social, political and economic gains made by decades of people’s struggles.
The courts clearly cannot be relied on to protect women’s rights, especially in this climate. But women themselves — and their allies — can be counted on.
Past struggles hold lessons for today
Women veterans of the 1980s and 1990s pro-choice struggles cite valuable lessons for today. Boston activists tell of defending clinics, pushing back right-wingers and safely escorting women, bravely standing up to harassment, spitting and other physical assaults.
Buffalo United for Choice organized a 2,500-strong mobilization of activists from the women’s, and lesbian and gay movements in April 1992. They physically stopped the vehemently anti-choice “Operation Rescue” from closing any of the five clinics it had vowed to shut down. The mobilization was a national one; BUC invited allies from other cities and organizations to the multi-issue fightback. This is needed again, they stress.
Planned Parenthood and other women’s health care providers have stood firmly against legislative and other attacks on their clinics. In state after state, they have affirmed women’s right to reproductive and other essential health care. In many regions, these are the only health care facilities accessible to low-income women for all services.
Outside the Boston Planned Parenthood clinic on the day after the high court’s ruling, opponents of choice came to discourage women from entering the clinic. Immediately, the organization’s Massachusetts chapter issued a critical call for escorts to form a buffer against any harassers and assist the women seeking medical care.
It is time for the women’s movement and its allies to organize a grassroots movement from every community, region and job sector — independent of the big business parties — with the goal of holding a national march on Washington to tell the Obama administration, Congress and the Supreme Court that women won’t go back in the struggle for their fundamental rights.
Such a march could demand reproductive justice with guaranteed access to all medical care, including cancer testing, contraceptive and abortion rights, as well as jobs with a livable wage and expansion of social programs for women and their families.
The future is not bleak. Recent events show the potential for struggle. Last summer, thousands of women, many young, protested anti-abortion legislation in a “people’s filibuster” in Austin, Texas. Then 60 activists got arrested at Moral Monday at the Raleigh, N.C., General Assembly where they had made similar demands.
Within the last year, thousands of fast food workers, two-thirds of whom are women, many Black and Latina, walked off their jobs to demand higher pay. Public sector workers, such as teachers, have fought attacks on collective bargaining and school cutbacks.
This June, a militant demonstration of mostly young women, with participation from the African-American and LGBTQ communities and UNITE HERE members, caused a Detroit hotel to cancel a misogynist “men’s only” conference. And there’s more.
Maureen Skehan, a veteran of the Boston demonstrations after the 1994 murders and a clinic defender, told Workers World that she is hopeful a new generation of women will take up the struggle: “Surely, women, especially those who are younger, will not accept these attacks on their rights and will begin to organize to fight back.”