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Texas law triggers US-wide attack on abortion rights

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Texas has become the testing ground for a new approach to the nearly 50 year-long battle over abortion rights in the United States.

A new law – SB8 – which took effect on 1 September, prohibits terminations after the detection of a foetal heartbeat, generally at around six weeks into a pregnancy. There are no exceptions made for rape or incest. Abortions will only be permitted in case of a risk to the mother’s life or health, but the exceptions are so narrowly defined that healthcare providers will interpret them conservatively to avoid being sued. The innovation is that any private citizen can bring a case to court.

Texas is the latest of a series of states to enact reactionary abortion laws, following Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida, since the packing of the Supreme Court under Donald Trump’s presidency.

What is particularly pernicious about the Texas law are the extreme methods by which it will be enforced. Not only will abortion be outlawed, but the civil court system will allow individuals, even from outside of Texas itself, to sue anyone they think is “complicit” in an abortion. This could include not only the doctor that performs the procedure, but even the clinic or hospital in which it took place.

The law is so open-ended that the partner of the person having the abortion could be sued if they provided financial assistance for the procedure. Even the Uber driver who drove the woman to the clinic could be sued. In the most extreme cases, the rapist who makes his victim pregnant could claim money in a civil suit, despite their criminal conviction for rape. The law sets the minimum pay-out in such cases at $10,000, plus court and legal fees. The figure in some cases could be even higher, while the plaintiff is protected by the law from being counter-sued.

Legislators in Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida have already announced plans to write and pass laws based on the Texas precedent, with yet more states likely to follow. Given that the Supreme Court has already given its approval to the immediate implementation of this type of law, we can expect legal restrictions on the constitutionally protected right to an abortion to be in effect in as much as half the country.

A series of legal challenges is already underway. Though U.S. District Judge Robert L. Pitman ordered a preliminary injunction against enforcing SB 8, agreeing with the Justice Department that the law was unconstitutional, within a few days the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suspended this. The Republican Texas Attorney General invoked the separation of powers, claiming the Department of Justice had no right to intervene in the case since SB 8 is enforced not by the state, but by private citizens, a feature deliberately designed to make any challenge difficult in the court system.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is due to open hearings on the abortion law in Mississippi, which could open the way to an assault on Roe v Wade. And if Roe v Wade were to be struck down 12 states, including Texas are ready to pass a complete ban on abortion.

Class issue
History shows that these reactionary laws will not stop abortions from happening, but rather force women to seek the operation out of the state or through undercover and even unqualified practitioners with enormous dangers to the women concerned. These dangers will disproportionately hit lower income, rural and black women. Not only will women seeking abortions have to face the costs of travelling to a distant location, but also the risk of still being sued as a consequence.

As was the case before the landmark Roe vs Wade decision in 1973, wealthier women will be able to overcome these impediments more easily than their less well-off sisters, reinforcing the class inequalities of capitalist oppression in the daily life of the working class woman.

These kinds of abortion restrictions are less about concern for an unborn foetus or ‘killing babies’ than they are about control over a woman’s reproductive freedom, the right to not have a child. As women are the ones who can replace one generation of wage slaves and soldiers (for the imperialists armies) with the next through procreation, they are rarely allowed in bourgeois society unrestricted reproductive freedom.

Such freedom would interfere with the smooth running of the imperialist, capitalist state. Alongside laws restricting voting rights and demonstrations, and unevenly enforced open carry gun laws, they are part and parcel of an overall plan to keep the white, patriarchal ruling class in power.

The very methodology used against oppressed populations is also used against strikes and labour actions by the working class, and indeed, any collective action taken by the people that interferes with the ‘right’ of wealthy white males to oppress the rest of us.

Despite Biden having long been seen as a supporter of a woman’s right to choose, and despite his and the federal government's denunciation of the Texas law, to rely on them to see off the challenge would be suicidal. The Democratic party is hamstrung by the gerrymandering in the state and national legislatures and, crucially, a lack of any realistic programme for opposing the attacks on women’s rights. As fundamentally a bosses’ party, the Democrats can only offer as solutions, ‘vote harder’ or ‘donate more’.

In fact, the party supported the Hyde Amendment (1977) that bars federal funds being used for an abortion, except in cases involving rape, incest and the health of the mother, and which inhibits a poor woman’s ability to fund an abortion under Medicaid. Some Democrats pandered to the “pro-life” side of the abortion debate during Bill Clinton’s administration. And today Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema even support the filibuster. So, it’s easy to see that the Democrats are fair-weather allies in this fight at best.

There have already been demonstrations against the “Right to life” crusaders, and they need to continue and become even bigger and more militant. Of course, legal challenges to every attempt like that in Texas are necessary, but what is missing thus far from the fight is the organised working class. It is only unified action by the working class, men as well as women, that can defeat the constant cycles of attacks on civil liberties by the ruling class. The 2018 teachers’ strikes showed how trade union and community action can stop the bosses’ attacks, even in states dominated by Republican politicians. We need the same degree of action across the US to defend women’s right to choose.

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