(1969-1970 chant outside NYC Women’s House of Detention)
It’s not just texas – But it IS texas
“Taken together, the Act is a breathtaking act of defiance—of the Constitution, of this Court’s precedents, and of the rights of women seeking abortions throughout Texas…” Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent to the supreme KKKourt refusal to grant an injunction in Whole Woman’s Health et al v. Austin Reeve Jackson, Judge, et al.
In July Whole Woman’s Health, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, sued to block texas’ new law SB 8, which outlawed abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy, but left enforcement to a bounty hunter scheme. A preliminary injunction was scheduled to be heard in federal district court on Monday, August 30. But on August 27, a panel of the Fifth Circuit kkkourt of appeals stopped the proceedings and dismissed the case, while also refusing a request to expedite an appeal of that decision. This forced the clinics to go to the supreme kkkourt, who refused to hear the challenge or block implementation of the law. On September 1, more than 85% of abortions sought in texas became illegal.
The latest attempt to outsmart 50 years of law starting with Roe v Wade, the texas abortion ban, is enforced by allowing individuals to sue an abortion provider, or anyone who assists a person seeking abortion (but not the pregnant person themselves). If successful the plaintiff will be awarded their costs plus a “bounty” of at least $10,000. A person who is sued, even if they successfully defend against the case, cannot seek reimbursement for their costs. Multiple people can sue the same people over the same abortion, potentially bankrupting clinics, referral services, or possibly even taxi drivers. It is not clear whether out of state abortion networks can be sued under this law. uber and lyft have said that they will defend any of their drivers who get sued. (Although they still are fighting against paying minimum wage or workers comp for their drivers.)
The six-week limit on abortion in SB 8 claims to be based on the earliest moment when “cardiac activity” can be detected on ultrasound. Although referred to as a “fetal heartbeat,” this not a heartbeat, as there is no heart in the embryo, which is not medically considered a fetus until 8 weeks. Rather it is electrical activity in a group of cells in the embryo that are a precursor to the pacemaker function of a yet to be developed heart.
The law specifically names “women” who are pregnant, though no one thinks that other genders wouldn’t be affected. Most people don’t even suspect they are pregnant until their first missed period, generally 4 weeks or so after the previous one. That leaves two weeks to detect and end a pregnancy Most pregnancy tests are not considered accurate until after the first missed period, although some can be taken sooner.
The supreme kkkourt majority appeared to support the legal argument that the clinics couldn’t sue to block the state from enforcing the law, because the state isn’t doing the enforcement, enforcement is by private individuals who have not been named. The decision leave the door open for challenges to enforcement of the law on a case by case basis as it is applied in the future. But without an injunction, those providing or assisting abortions after 6 weeks in any way risked being sued. At the end of August both Whole Women’s Health and Planned Parenthood, the largest women’s health clinics/abortion providers stopped scheduling abortions that would occur after six weeks of pregnancy. Abortion is now effectively banned in Texas, and even if the law is eventually overturned, it is likely that most abortion providers will be permanently out of business.
This law will primarily affect young, poor and working class women, without the resources to independently travel to states such as California, where abortion remains, at the moment, a right.
Not the Church, Not the State, Women will Decide Our Fate
Prior to the Roe v Wade decision on January 22, 1973, millions of people across the u.s. fought for abortion rights including people in women’s liberation/gay liberation movements. In addition to protests, guerrilla theater, and direct action disruption, self-help groups such as the Jane Network in Chicago also started performing abortions. Women’s groups and clinics trained on vacuum aspiration, a relatively new, safer technique for removing the uterine lining, which was (and still is) used for first trimester abortions. Even I attended a presentation in Ohio on how to do vacuum aspiration abortions in 1971. The Boston Women’s Health Collective wrote the first edition of Women and Their Bodies in 1970, which was republished in 1971 by the New England Free Press, as the first edition of Our Bodies Our Selves.
Although mainstream women’s orgs such as NOW often limited their demands to legalizing abortion, most women’s liberation groups demanded not only “Free Abortion on Demand” but a reproductive rights program including stopping forced sterilization, and the rights of lesbians and gay men to access reproductive services and parental rights.
The gay liberation movement emerged at the same time as women’s liberation. Yes, lesbians were present at Stonewall and at all queer liberation moments before or since. Martha Shelley explained gay liberation as “We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex-role structure and nuclear family structure.” The alliance between the LGBT movements and the movement for abortion rights remained strong through the 1980s and 1990s, for example in the Bay Area, including the Bay Area Coalition Against Operation Rescue, BAYCOR. (Operation Rescue was a catholic and Christian based direct action movement that picketed abortion clinics, physically and verbally accosted people working in the clinics or seeking abortions, and was alleged to be linked to the bombings of abortion clinics and murders of abortion providers). Tory broke her wrist doing clinic defense at an Oakland clinic.
But while the original unity of gay liberation was that the state has no right to determine who and how we will love, and the gay liberation fronts were named after the National Liberation Front in Vietnam, over time assimilated gay men and lesbians determined it was safe to come out of the closets, if not into the streets. The newer mainstream gay movement turned away from demands for sexual freedom and control of our bodies, even trying over the years to tamp down the overt sexuality on display at annual stonewall commemorations or pride parades. This turn towards assimilation, joining the military and corporations, and elevating gay marriage as a key demand also included a turn away from radical feminism which included a critique of gender roles and the family.
The apparent court victory of Roe v Wade appeared to have established a national right to abortion, although as early as 1976 the hyde amendment banned Medicaid funding of abortions. By 1979 the right-wing had settled on abortion as their wedge issue, even more strongly than their opposition to gay rights. The grassroots abortion movement responded with clinic defense, but mainstream groups eventually discouraged activities outside of clinics, and turned to lobbying, lawsuits and pursuing “FACE” ordinances to prohibit demonstrations outside of clinics.
California has a strong legal framework for protecting abortion, including the 1972 amendment to the California constitution protecting the right to “privacy” which the courts have interpreted as protecting the right to abortion and reproductive services, including for young people, and for MediCal-paid abortions. People come here from other states and countries to get abortions, aided by groups such as ACCESS which has been defending reproductive rights since 1993.
In 2005, anti-abortionists held the first annual “west coast walk for life” in San Francisco which each year bus in thousands of fetus-worshipers from all over the country. At first they were met with large counter demonstrations, which eventually got smaller, and became guerilla theater, rallies, and one attempted blockade.
In the rest of the world the trend is towards expanding abortion rights, with the notable exception of Poland and Nicaragua. Ireland had amended its constitution in 1983, following the visit of pope john paul II, to ban almost all abortions. In 2018 Irish people voted almost two to one to overturn the ban. In 2019 Oaxaca joined Mexico City as the second state to permit abortion, and on September 7, 2021, the Mexican supreme court ruled that abortion must be legal throughout the country. Argentina legalized abortion up to 14 weeks at the end of 2020. Cuba had legalized abortion in 1965, six years after the revolution, and expanded abortion access in 1979. Gayana had legalized abortion in 1995; Uruguay decriminalized it in 2012.
Voter Suppression – SB 1
“The idea that there is widespread voter fraud or problems in Texas elections is dangerous, racist, and moreover, it is devoid of evidentiary support… the bill would appear to particularly impact voters of color. Limitations on voter assistance for people with limited English proficiency will have an outsized effect on communities of color. So will provisions that give great leeway to poll watchers to intimidate voters.” Brennan Center for Justice analysis of Texas SB 1, signed on September 7
Less than two weeks after SB 8 limiting abortions took effect, texas gov abbott signed SB 1, which will make It far more difficult for Black and Latinx people, working and poor people to vote. The outnumbered democratic legislators had fled the state in July to prevent a quorum, since despite widespread disapproval of the bill among people in the state, the republican legislature was determined to pass it.
The democratic legislators from texas went to Washington DC to lobby for the passage of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Enhancement Act. The two bills would restore provisions of the voting rights act which were thrown out by the supreme court in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013. These bills have passed the house of representatives, but are unlikely to make it through the senate.
texas’ SB 1 is specifically aimed at reducing the vote in Harris County. It outlaws accommodations such as drive-through voting, and makes mail-in ballots more difficult. texas joins georgia and at least 17 other states that have enacted 30 or more voter suppression laws since January 2021. A previous wave of voter suppression laws were passed between 2013 and 2018, which included voter ID laws.
Twenty-five states have enacted 54 laws to expand voting accessibility in recent years. In florida, two-thirds of the voters in 2018 passed Amendment 4, restoring the right to vote to people previously convicted of a felony. The legislature tried to weaken the amendment by requiring the formerly incarcerated people to repay any fines or fees prior to registering to vote. Federal judge Robert Hinkle ruled those requirements unconstitutional, and found that most of the formerly incarcerated people wouldn’t be able to pay the fines anyway, or even discover what they were. But the state appealed the decision and, after delaying for months and without giving a reason, the appeals court stayed Hinkle’s order. Advocates appealed to the supreme kkkourt who said that it was too close to the 2020 election at the time to allow people to vote. In the dissent also signed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elena Kagan, Sotomayor said the “the Eleventh Circuit has created the very ‘confusion’ and voter chill” the court had tried to prevent in disallowing changes in voting laws immediately preceding an election.
Given the scope and impact of the texas laws, and the kkkourt’s decision to hear a case later this year that could potentially overturn Roe v Wade regarding mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, it is surprising how little protest there has been. Some people demonstrated outside the kkkourt and some outside the texas legislature on September 1, but there has been little reaction here in the Bay Area, for example. The Women’s March is organizing a national mobilization to defend reproductive rights including abortion rights on October 2, but so far it is not directly addressing voter suppression which goes hand in hand with efforts to limit all rights, but maybe that will change.
An Injury to One Is an Injury to All! Free Abortion on Demand Without Apology! Voting Is a Right!