Following the Supreme Court’s misogynist, anti-democratic decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, ending abortion as a federal right in the United States, the movement for reproductive justice and women’s equality must demand that President Joe Biden take immediate emergency action to guarantee access to this important and life-saving medical procedure in all 50 states. The idea that the federal government can do nothing substantial at this moment, that its hands are tied, is false. This is a matter of political will.
Anti-abortion “trigger” laws will take 30 days to take effect in most places. While our protests continue to demand federal legislation to make abortion a right and the elimination of the filibuster, we also demand the White House take emergency action. A public health emergency can be declared. Federal facilities and military hospitals could be opened to offer abortion care. These, and many other actions, are well within presidential authority without federal legislation. The government can and must assert that the Hyde Amendment, which denies federal funds for abortion in Medicaid and other health program, does not apply to such emergency actions.
After the leak of the draft opinion in May, the Biden administration began considering contingency plans like this. Thirty-four Democratic Senators have demanded he act on them. Instead the White House is sitting on its hands, telling people to vote in November and doing its utmost to defend the “legitimacy” of a Supreme Court that has been captured by the far-right. This an outrageous display of cowardice and electoral manipulation, revealing greater allegiance to the institutions of ruling-class power than to the millions demanding action in the face of an emergency. It is, however, no surprise from the man who as Senator delivered Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and who until recently was one of the main anti-choice Democrats in Washington.
What about the Hyde Amendment?
The Hyde Amendment is a rider that has been attached to the budget since 1976 which prohibits Medicaid from paying for abortions for poor women. Even though it remains on the books, it should not be construed as a kind of amendment to the Constitution that prevents Biden from taking emergency action right now to protect providers and patients. Of course, the Hyde Amendment is racist, sexist and anti-poor and belongs in the dustbin of history.
During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, organizers used the contradictions between federal and state laws to protect their right to demonstrate, holding protests at Post Offices (federal facilities) to provide some protection from Jim Crow state and local police. Many of the most important legal advances of the movement drew upon federal authority, precedents established during Reconstruction, to secure rights that states denied. This history provides a way forward again, but it requires courage and creativity, a desire to fight, and the masses of people to stay in the streets.
That the Republicans will go to court to stop such actions is no excuse to not take emergency action. Courts and politicians alone are not the most decisive factor in this struggle, as the history of abortion access has shown. It took a militant mass movement in the streets to win legal abortion, which came in 1973 in the form of a decision by the Supreme Court. It wasn’t a gift, but a response to a mass movement. That movement must and can be revived today.
Ruling won’t stop abortions from happening
A bold political and legal strategy of course goes hand in hand with the crucial work of providers, funds and direct aid organizers to make medical abortion (abortion pills) and surgical abortion available to all who need an abortion, by mailing pills and providing transportation to abortion-supportive states. (One of the most comprehensive links to these resources is provided by Shout Your Abortion and can be found here.) The PSL salutes all these efforts and will continue to support them.
This is not the time to accommodate ourselves to a new “post-Roe” reality! At this crucial moment, the movement must not let the Biden administration off the hook. The fear of demanding too much and alienating top Democrats is a strategy that ensures defeat. That has been proven. Now they must put their money where their mouth is. Empty words of solidarity are not enough when people’s lives are on the line. Every individual denied an abortion is at risk of pregnancy-related death or serious health impacts, as well as lifelong economic, psychological and personal safety consequences (as proven in the Turnaway Study).
Emergency action to protect abortion access would be supported by a majority of people in the United States. It will save lives now, and breathe new life in the movement to enact federal legislation such as the Women’s Health Protection Act.
If Biden refuses to act, he will have shown the true face of the Democratic Party, which has shamelessly used abortion as a political talking point to win elections while actually throwing abortion rights under the bus time and again. Either way, our struggle will continue.