Abortion and the Left

From the new issue of NEWS & LETTERS, May-June 2011:

Woman as Reason

Abortion and the Left

by Terry Moon

Our Draft for Perspectives in this issue contains these paragraphs: “It is not only that women’s human rights are under siege by the U.S. Congress and state legislators, it is that the barriers put up, the requirements women face, are themselves so grievous, that the entire Left should be up in arms. Given this level of attack, where is the solidarity with women’s struggles?

“In all the demonstrations against Scott Walker’s attempt to destroy the bargaining rights of unionized state workers, there was hardly a peep from the unions or the Left about his horrendous stand on the right of women to control their own bodies. He voted to gut $4 million from the Wisconsin budget for family planning resources and end all funding for Planned Parenthood, among other fanatical proposals….

“The point is that women’s struggle for abortion rights is not a diversion from revolution, but a freedom demand without which real liberation is impossible. ”

The reason, of course, the Left leaves out the demand for abortion rights is that they recognize it as a “divisive” issue. Even the so-called feminist anti-war group, CODEPINK, has not a word to say about abortion rights. But women’s right to an abortion should be a part of any group fighting war, if for no other reason than that rape is a weapon of war.

WAR AND WOMEN’S LIVES

As we fight to end the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as agitating against what is happening in Congo, Ivory Coast, and wherever there is conflict, anti-war activists have to be concerned with women who are raped and especially those who become pregnant. In many countries, those women are shunned and banished. In a war situation, having access to an abortion can mean the difference of a woman’s life or death. It can mean the difference of being able to live a full life, and living one in shame, disgrace and poverty.

But one doesn’t have to go far from home to comprehend abortion as an issue for the anti-war movement. Rape occurs in the U.S. military nearly twice as often as in the civilian world. Over 3,000 women experienced sexual assault in 2008–a 9% increase from 2007–at the same time as the military claims to be focused on trying to stop the abuse. The rate of sexual assaults against military women in Iraq and Afghanistan increased 25%.

Anti-abortion fanatics made their presence known here too, as, even if women use their own money, they cannot get an abortion in military facilities overseas. Military facilities can only be used for abortion if it is to save the woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest. But all studies show how difficult–and dangerous–it is for a woman to report such abuse, as she is often attacked by a military superior. Several women have been murdered by rapist servicemen for daring to report abuse.

CHOOSE FREEDOM OR PRAGMATISM

Clearly, free abortion on demand for women in war situations should be a demand of the anti-war movement. Failure to make it a demand is simply unprincipled and cowardly. The Left is all for “speaking truth to power,” except when that truth is the need for women to have control over our own bodies.

But it is not only the anti-war movement that needs to take abortion rights into account. Given the violation of women’s human rights going on now, almost any organization that claims to be for freedom, social justice, human rights, etc., needs to come out for women’s right to abortion. It may be divisive, groups may lose a few members or some funding; but unless you want to bow down to a vicious right-wing reactionary, racist, sexist, pro-capitalist anti-poor movement, committed to ending abortion rights and the right to contraception, then organizations–peace and justice centers, gay rights groups, anti-Tea Party groups, anti-eviction organizations, etc.–need to step up and be counted or lose any kind of freedom credentials they might have had.

The truth is that abortion rights are about women’s freedom, because if we don’t have control over our own bodies, we don’t have freedom. So what’s it going to be? Will the Left step up and back a genuine freedom demand; or hide behind pragmatism and single-issue politics and let women fight for reproductive justice as we’ve been doing now for decades–on our own?

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