Women’s rights and health care: Battlegrounds in the class struggle

While the very rich may be experiencing an “era of good feeling,” the multinational working class is facing attacks at every turn.

From the first day of his presidency, the benefit-cutter-in-chief and his cabal in the White House, Cabinet and Congress have moved to dismantle gains and benefits won over decades by workers and labor unions, the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, immigrants, women’s rights’ organizations, environmentalists, the LGBTQ community, disability rights groups, students, seniors and children’s advocates.

The political agents of the ruling class — while claiming to defend jobs! — have waged an overt and covert war to overturn any social progress won through the class struggle and people’s movements. If they can’t pressure and finagle Congress to roll back these gains, they do it stealthily through government agencies, official decrees or executive orders.

These reactionaries have been hell-bent on overturning the Affordable Care Act since Congress enacted it in 2010. While this law fell far short of socialized medicine, it nevertheless enabled over 20 million working-class individuals to obtain health insurance. Many low-income workers accessed coverage through the ACA’s provisions for Medicaid expansion and federal subsidies, which the right wing is now trying to sabotage.

Since attempts to “repeal and/or replace” Obamacare lost in Congress, the misogynist Republican right has now targeted women’s health care benefits. In June, a gang of white male senators secretly tried to eliminate coverage for maternal care, mammograms, birth control and other women’s medical benefits and also defund Planned Parenthood. That scheme backfired when it became public and women around the country organized against it.

One popular section of the ACA that corporate heads and right-wing politicians have continually attacked is the mandate that companies include free contraceptive coverage in their employee insurance policies. Some 62.4 million women have insurance covering ­contraception with no out-of-pocket costs, says the National Women’s Law Center. Safe and reliable prevention of unwanted pregnancies can be costly, ranging from $50 a month to $1,000 for certain devices — a price too high for many women.

In collaboration with the Christian right, some companies claimed providing contraceptive coverage violated their “religious freedom.” The chorus of business owners opposing the contraceptive mandate under that guise swelled and was the crux of the Hobby Lobby case. The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that closely held for-profit companies could eliminate this benefit from their insurance plans based on the owners’ religious objections. However, the Obama administration arranged an alternative: Women could bypass their employers and get this coverage directly from insurers.

Corporate pressure continued. So on Oct. 6, Trump obliged his right-wing millionaire cronies by issuing an executive order effective immediately that allows any employer to opt out of the contraceptive mandate if they claim “religious or moral objections” to it. Moreover, the edict will make it harder for women workers to obtain contraceptive coverage directly from insurers.

This directive circumvented public discussion and even Congressional debate about a benefit that 68 percent of the population supports. The White House alleges that low-income women can obtain contraceptives through community health centers and government programs, but right-wing politicians are also determined to take a scalpel to funds for these services.

Not mentioned in most liberal critiques of the Trump administration is this fact: These attacks on women are part of big capital’s war on the working class. Bosses the world over have one main goal: to maximize profits and decrease labor costs, meaning wages and benefits.

Build working-class unity!

The White House suspended on Aug. 29 an Obama-administration regulation aimed at narrowing the gender pay gap. Women earn 80 percent of what men make, and even less for women of color, who are doubly exploited by employers’ racist and sexist wage policies. African-American women and Latinas are paid only 63 cents and 54 cents, respectively, on each dollar white men make.

Ever since 1966 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has required firms with more than 100 workers to fill out an EEO-1 form indicating the employees’ gender, race and type of work. In an attempt to detect pay discrimination, the Obama regulation added a new category: wage levels for all workers. Now Trump’s order has eliminated the revised form so new data proving discrimination cannot be collected. A National Women’s Law Center statement noted that the ruling tells businesses “This administration has your back.”

There is federal backsliding on another important issue affecting women — campus sexual assaults. The previous administration posted studies about this anti-woman violence at the White House website, with the goal of reducing it, but this information has disappeared without explanation. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has outrageously stated that federal policies are unfair to the perpetrators and will be rewritten.

These government attacks on women’s rights have not happened in a vacuum. They are part of a widespread offensive by the capitalist class to maximize profits. Workers’ safety and health measures, benefits for workers with disabilities and retirees, and rights for transgender employees are being rolled back, while minimum wage, overtime and collective bargaining rights are endangered.

Essential federal programs that aid workers, low-income and oppressed communities are on the chopping block, while the wealthiest 1% plot to get enormous tax cuts to increase their riches.

Racism, sexism, xenophobia and anti-LGBTQ attitudes permeate the White House and congressional right wing. The war on undocumented immigrant workers is escalating with more roundups and deportations. The Department of (In)justice, headed by archracist Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is denying rights to prisoners, disproportionately Black and Latinx, and enabling racist police violence. Voting rights of oppressed communities are under attack. And the Democratic Party, the other party of imperialism, puts up no real fight against all this.

The answer to this ruling-class offensive is to build working-class unity and strengthen the class struggle. That means recognizing the leading role played by the most oppressed sections of our class.

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