Hit the Streets to Defend Abortion Rights

by Nancy Dahlberg

As a feminist and mother of four children, I am outraged and disappointed by the way the U.S. government is interfering with the right to abortion. Abortion is a necessary option for women and a crucially important medical and personal decision. It is a prerogative that allows women to take charge of their own bodies and control an important part of their destinies. But Congress and Bush are hell-bent on removing this right with the "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

Public officials are representing the interests of a rightwing movement eager to eliminate women's freedom. Their message that women's lives are not their own is conveyed through various methods: attacks on reproductive rights, government rewards for marriage, and the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the appeal of a woman convicted of homicide for drug use that led to a stillbirth. Add the increased social pressure on women to stay home, make babies, care for parents, and fill in for de-funded public services, and it is clear that the government is acting on a mandate to subjugate women by any means necessary. Capitalism needs women to fill the role of an underpaid, expendable part of the workforce and provider of free labor at home. Without this, the system would go broke. In addition, appeals to sacred motherhood always arise in times of war and the government's anti-woman domestic policy is just as much a part of the imperial war plan as the PATRIOT Act.

"Partial birth abortion" is linguistic trickery and right-wing rhetoric with dangerous ramifications. What is being targeted is late-term abortion—a choice a woman is generally forced to make because of severe and unforeseen consequences of pregnancy. In addition, the law is purposely worded so vaguely that it could be used to criminalize some of the safest and most common abortion procedures. Like a Nebraska law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, it lacks an exception for when a woman's health is at risk and it imposes an undue burden on a woman exercising her right to choose abortion. The ban is opposed by many health care professionals, including the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women's Association, and the American Nurses Association.

When this bill is signed into law, women will no longer be able to freely receive medical advice from their doctors without fear of criminal penalties. Doctors will no longer be able to recommend what is best for the health of their patients because politicians have decided they know better than the women, their families or their physicians. This is an alarming insertion of government control of women's private lives.

For too long, women's health has been used for political advancement and the greed of the profit-driven health industry. Early versions of the birth-control pill and IUD were dreadfully unsafe, but only withdrawn due to huge pressure from feminists. Similarly the assumption that women needed permanent doses of estrogen was great for the pharmaceutical companies but bad for women's health.

Our elected officials play to the tune of corporate wealth and voting blocs. They are eager to win the votes of conservatives and dismissive of reproductive rights advocates who are perceived as willing to vote for Democrats no matter what. The Democratic Party's increasing orientation to the right resulted in 17 Democratic senators and 62 Democratic representatives supporting the late-term abortion ban. Two of the Democratic senators had hypocritically taken donations from Emily's List, which contributes to pro-choice candidates. While Bush imposed a ban on funding for overseas health services that advised women on abortion options, it was Clinton who brought us laws destroying welfare and promoting abstinence.

So the strategy relied on by NARAL Pro-Choice America and other mainstream women's groups of replacing Republican officials with Democrats just won't work. Simply electing more Democrats won't be enough. Democrats haven't stopped all the abortion restrictions implemented with bipartisan support since 1973, restrictions that have done particular injury to reproductive health options for poor women.

I call on all women and men concerned about women's rights to raise their voices and again make abortion a prime-time, front page issue. We have done it in the past through building radical grassroots movements of all who are disenfranchised by this repressive, money-mad system, and we must do it again. We must hit the streets to demonstrate our full support for reproductive freedom. Raise the consciousness of youth who don't understand the consequences of illegal abortion. Testify to every legislative body. Write every elected official and every newspaper. Face every attack on abortion clinics at the entrance doors and protect the women who use their services.

And let's go on the offensive and expand our demands beyond protecting the minimum that still exists. Real choice means safe, free, unrestricted abortion on demand to women of all ages and abilities; free, safe birth control; an end to forced sterilization; guaranteed pre-natal care; free, 24-hour childcare; and full medical coverage for all.

Act now to reassert women's right to have control over their own bodies!

Nancy Dahlberg's poetry has appeared in Northwest Review, CALYX, and other journals.