Austin, Texas — With women’s rights supporters continuing to express opposition and outrage, the Texas governmental attack on women’s health and reproductive freedom has proceeded with the implementation of a vicious and even more repressive new anti-abortion law. Identified as House Bill 2, passed in special session this summer and signed last month by Gov. Rick Perry, the law represents a draconian attack on women’s fundamental right to control and care for their own bodies.
Particularly repressive measures include prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and forcing abortion clinics (where abortion normally is a simple, uncomplicated procedure with a superb safety record) to meet onerous standards as hospital-style surgical centers. The clear aim, according to pro-abortion medical professionals and activists, has been to force most centers out of operation.
The law follows on the heels of previous legislation intended to weigh down abortion procedures and restrict access through basically frivolous requirements such as medically unnecessary (and expensive) ultrasound tests.
Beginning this past Wednesday (Aug. 28th), the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) — in charge of regulating abortion providers in the state — began hearing public testimony on the implementation of the new package of abortion restrictions.
Despite pleas from pro-abortion women’s rights supporters ro amend the agency’s proposed regulations, on Thursday, Aug. 29th, the nine-member Texas State Health Services Council — basically an advisory panel to DHSH — declined to vote on the agency proposed rules implementing the line, thus giving tacit approval.
The attack on women’s rights seems merely the most prominent component of a ferocious ongoing assault by Texas’s ruling elite on working people’s rights and living standards across the state. Other targets have ranged from unemployment support, public education, and health care to voting rights.
Yet the mainstream leadership of Texas women’s rights organization have generally eschewed militant, independent political action, and steered protest into uncertain judicial exercises and rallies for Democratic Party candidates.
Democratic leaders, in turn, have carried on a kind of kabuki dance, professing grief and “disappointment” as rights have been systematically shredded, and engaging in occasional publicity stunts, while restraining real protest.
During the special legislative session, abortion groups, in coordination with the Dem minority, packed pro-abortion supporters into the legislative chambers, mainly to serve as a cheering squad for the handful of Dem legislators performing a clearly futile gesture of opposition to the extremist-right anti-abortion package.
Most prominent was the exhaustive marathon filibuster by Ft. Worth-area State Senator Wendy Davis, witnessed by an international television audience as she stood on her feet at considerable physical stress for 14 hours denouncing the legislation. But, as everyone knew, the passage of the measure was a foregone conclusion. Davis is now considering a run for higher office, possibly the Texas governorship.
Militant forces on the left point out that the Democrats in their own way have impeded women’s rights, including abortion. “History shows that the advancement in the 1960s and early 1970s of women’s rights, including the right to abortion, took place not because it was spontaneously and generously granted by either capitalist party, but due to tremendous social upheavals” argues Workers Vanguard, voice of the revolutionary Marxist Spartacist League.
As another Workers Vanguard analysis elaborates,
The legalization of abortion 40 years ago was the product of the tumultuous struggles of the 1960s, especially the fight for black equality and the Vietnam antiwar movement, which were catalysts for the women’s rights movement of that era. In the face of class and social struggle, the capitalist class may cede some reforms. But the only way to ensure those gains are not undone is for the working class to wrest power and the wealth of society from the capitalist rulers.
According to this leftist view, the way forward is not to continue to cheerlead the Democrats and their kabuki dances — which continue to lead to staggering defeats — but to join ranks with trade unions, minority and immigrant rights groups, and other militantly progressive forces to build an independent, revolutionary political movement:
The fight for abortion rights mandates that we build a revolutionary workers party, waging a political struggle to break working people from the Democratic Party. The working class has the social power necessary to mobilize in defense of not only women, but all the oppressed.
The Spartacists acknowledge that “In today’s reactionary ‘moral values’ climate it is even more difficult to win workers to the understanding that abortion is not a narrow ‘women’s issue’ but a class issue: an essential democratic right, the removal of which would redound against all working people.” But, they emphasize, mobilizing working people and building a revolutionary opposition is at least a path toward winning and advancing rights, rather than wringing hands and weeping over defeat after defeat.
NOTE: Preparation of this news analysis also relied on reporting from the Austin American-Statesman (29 Aug. 2013), Houston Chronicle (28 Aug.), and Texas Tribune (29 Aug.).