The right-wing dominated North Carolina state legislature overrode the governor’s veto last night in a dramatic vote that imposed a ban on abortions in the state after 12 weeks of pregnancy. And this is just one of a number of states where heated struggles over abortion rights are currently playing out. Nearly one year after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision dealt a historic blow to women’s rights, the fight is as urgent as ever and playing out on a number of fronts.
The North Carolina bill was first passed by the legislature earlier this month, but was vetoed by the state’s governor. But with the help of State Representative Tricia Cotham, who was elected as a Democrat before changing parties last month, the rightwing had the necessary three-fifths majority to move forward regardless.
Meanwhile, anti-women legislators in Nebraska also held a key vote yesterday. They used a procedural maneuver to revive a six-week abortion ban that had earlier failed to secure enough support to advance. While Republicans were unable to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote to end a filibuster by a pro-abortion rights lawmaker, yesterday’s vote in Nebraska amended an anti-trans bill currently under consideration to also include an abortion ban. The rightwing is combining their bigoted policy slate into one frontal attack on both abortion rights and trans rights. A united fight back is more important than ever.
Right now, the South Carolina General Assembly is debating a law that would outlaw abortion after six weeks of pregnancy — an absurdly short window that is effectively the same as a total ban. Right-wing Governor Henry McMaster summoned the legislature for a special session in order to pass the bill, along with several other racist and anti-worker measures.
In all of these cases, there has been grassroots resistance. In Nebraska, for instance, hundreds of protesters filled the state capitol building, nearly drowning out the debate inside the chamber with chanting and forcing lawmakers to flee the building through a tunnel under police escort after the vote had been taken.
But it needs to be remembered that this state of affairs exists because of the failure of the Democratic Party leadership to take action both ahead of and in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. The movement is in the position of having to fight a grueling, state-by-state battle inside legislative bodies dominated by the rightwing due to this failure.
When Biden came into office, the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate. Without needing a single Republican vote, they could have passed a bill legalizing abortion nationwide, taking the decision out of the hands of the Supreme Court. But to do that, the Democrats would need to get rid of the “filibuster” rule in the Senate that requires 60 votes to pass most legislation. Biden and the Democrats ultimately decided that they value this anti-democratic practice more than they care about women’s rights.
Following the Supreme Court decision, Biden sat on his hands and said that the only thing that people could do was vote for Democrats in the midterm election. And in fact, there was a surge of opposition to right-wing candidates that denied Republicans the sweeping victory most observers anticipated. This clearly has not stopped the onslaught of anti-abortion measures, but Biden could and still can take executive action. A national health emergency could be declared and federal authorities could initiate a massive public education campaign to help circumvent state-level restrictions. The administration could move to set up facilities on federal land in states with bans to offer abortion services free of charge.
The key task remains to build a fighting movement in the streets on a massive enough scale that the rightwing has no choice but to back down. And to succeed, this movement must be politically independent of the Democrats, who have shown time and again that they do not have and are not interested in a real plan to win.