Virginia Rodino and Clare Lemlich report on the national marches in October against Texas’ abortion ban, arguing that relying on the courts and the Democrats alone can’t safeguard our bodily autonomy.
On Saturday, October 2 hundreds of rallies took place across the United States in response to ongoing and increased assaults on reproductive rights. The latest protests and marches came one month after Texas’s near-total ban on abortions went into effect.
The new law, commonly known as the “hearbeat law,” prohibits abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy. But that is before most people know they are pregnant. It is also earlier than when 85% to 90% of all abortions are carried out.
There are no exceptions for rape or incest — and the law also allows anyone to sue patients, medical workers, or even a patient’s family or friends who “aid and abet” an abortion. The law relies on ordinary people to enforce the ban rewarding them at least $10,000 if they successfully sue anyone who helped provide an illegal abortion. For instance, drivers who bring people to clinics or anti-choice protestors outside clinics can report suspected abortions and be rewarded for it.
A similar bill to ban most abortions after six weeks has also been introduced in Florida.
Thousands of rally goers in hundreds of cities gathered on Saturday for the fifth Women’s March. Major marches took place in Washington, DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as in several Texas cities.
In Austin, TX, hundreds gathered to denounce the so-called “heartbeat” law signed by Governor Greg Abbott. Thousands filled streets in downtown Dallas for a “Reproductive Liberation March and Rally” led by women of color. Although a main focus was repealing SB8, demonstrators also talked about increasing access, “reproductive justice,” and “bodily autonomy.”
The largest demonstration was in Washington, DC, where protesters marched to the Supreme Court two days before it reconvened. This session the justices will consider a Mississippi case that could enable them to overturn federal abortion rights established in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case.
If the court overturns the precedent, abortion access would no longer be protected by the Constitution, leaving states free to ban it, limit it, or allow it without restrictions. Many states already have post-Roe laws to ban all or nearly all abortions that would be triggered if Roe were overturned, and abortion rights would not be protected in over half the 50 states.
The day before the October 2 marches, the Biden administration urged a federal judge to block the Texas law — the nation’s most restrictive — which has banned most abortions in Texas since early September.
On October 6, the judge issued a temporary pause on enforcing the ban, but it quickly resumed after the conservative 5th Circuit Appeals Court overruled the pause. This is one of a series of cases that will test whether the Supreme Court will uphold or overrule Roe v. Wade.
The Justices, in a 5-4 decision on September 1, already denied a request from abortion and women’s health providers to block enforcement of the Texas law. In response, for the first time ever, approval ratings for the Supreme Court dipped below 50%. A strong movement in the streets could use the court’s illigitimacy and force them to recognize the country’s pro-choice majority.
The first Women’s March was held in 2017 on the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s outright misogyny was a lightning rod that drew people into the streets four years ago, but there are deeper strategic questions about why the marches were not as well-attended in October this year.
The marches were called by a liberal coalition of pro-Democrat organizations and the messaging at most demonstrations around the country was to vote Democrat. Nine months into a Democratic presidency and with abortion rights on the chopping block nevertheless, it’s little wonder that fewer people turned out on October 2 than in previous years.
The Biden Administration is not supportive of the restrictive laws. But the Democrats are fair-weather friends when it comes to abortion — Biden himself originally opposed Roe v. Wade. He has voted throughout his career against federal funding for abortions. But popular opinion and movements for reproductive justice have pushed Biden to back Roe. We need movements today that can make the Democrats’ long time flip-flopping on abortion politically untenable.
Just a few years ago we were battling against state restrictions, but the idea of overturning Roe seemed impossible. Now it is a real possibility. There is a palpable rage against the Texas ban and people know it is a prelude to more attacks. We need pro-choice marches bigger than Women’s Marches under Trump, but people’s anger and fear won’t translate into this activity automatically.
The general de-mobilization around the election, coupled with the feeling that we are waiting for the Biden administration, or progressives in Congress, to act — have undermined building a movement that could actually pressure the Supreme Court to affirm abortion rights. Such a movement could go further to expand already limited access to reproductive healthcare for all.
In the immediate days following the Texas ban announcement, it wasn’t clear if the mainstream women’s organizations were going to call anything in response. Social media flooded with information on how to administer DIY medical abortions, partly reflecting a sense that public access to abortions had already been lost.
In this context, the October protests were an encouraging sign. But socialists need to prioritize building larger mobilizations and an ongoing movement that builds confidence in our self activity — rather than leaving our hopes with the Democrats or the courts.
Alternative marches with more radical demands occurred in some locations on October 2 in response to the top-down marches called by liberal nonprofits and coalitions. Their critiques are valuable, but smaller counter-demonstrations of the far left won’t build the movement we need.
For all the limitations of the Women’s Marches, they are attracting a new layer of people who want to defend abortion. The way Roe was won, and the way to defend it, is to build a huge movement that threatens the legitimacy of an anti-choice court. There needs to be a socialist pole inside these marches — and open, democratic meetings to plan them — to raise these arguments and demands.
Virginia Rodino & Clare Lemlich