What would happen if Roe v. Wade were overturned? That’s the question more and more people are asking now that the undemocratic Supreme Court is in the hands of its anti-abortion faction.
If a clique of unelected judges, vetted and appointed for life by the rich and powerful, overturns Roe, nearly half the country would officially become illegal abortion territory overnight.
Four states have “trigger laws” that would instantaneously ban abortion (Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota); nine states retain pre-Roe abortion bans that would become enforceable once again (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Wisconsin); seven other states have expressed their intent to limit abortion to the maximum extent possible in the absence of Roe (Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio).
In the era of Roe, the rightwing has long fought to chip away at abortion rights at the state and municipal level. With many fearing the fall of federal protection, a defensive struggle to safeguard abortion is now also taking a localized and state-by-state form.
From offense to defense
A militant women’s movement won Roe in 1973. Since then, the rightwing has led a multi-pronged attack on abortion rights. Ultimately, they hope to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. In the meantime, they’ve succeeded in weakening abortion rights with highly restrictive laws that limit abortion access under the framework of Roe without overturning it outright.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “The 424 abortion restrictions enacted in just the last eight years comprise more than a third of all abortion restrictions enacted since Roe was decided in 1973,” a period of 46 years!
Twenty-three new abortion restrictions were enacted in 2018, down from 63 in 2017. At the same time, 2018 saw a sharp increase in the number of laws adopted to protect and expand access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. These trends speak to the timely awakening of a grassroots movement to protect abortion rights, now being waged from a defensive position, at the state level against the backdrop of a possible overturn of Roe at the federal level.
Today, 90 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion providers and a complex network of state-level restrictions make abortion a right that cannot be exercised by an increasing number of women. When we wonder how this restrictive abortion-landscape came into existence it is not just because of a sustained rightwing assault on women’s rights. The passivity and apathy of the “liberal” political establishment, represented by the corporate-controlled Democratic Party, has been an equally necessary ingredient.
The Democratic Party’s politicking with abortion
The mildness and weakness of the Democratic Party in the face of decades of rightwing mobilization against abortion rights is only part of the story.
The Democratic Party, which postures as the main defender of abortion rights, has also time-and-again thrown abortion rights under the bus for short-term electoral gain, or to achieve political compromise with anti-abortion crusaders. For over 40 years, the fundamental right to abortion has been treated as little more than a bargaining chip by Democratic Party politicians.
Since the 1976 passage of the Hyde amendment, which bars the use of federal funds for abortion, affecting poor and working-class women who rely on federally-funded forms of healthcare, Democrats and Republicans have “compromised” by including Hyde-amendment-restrictions in all health-related legislation. Since the Hyde amendment originally passed, six presidents—three Democrats and three Republicans—have protected Hyde amendment restrictions.
Bill Clinton signed versions of the Hyde amendment into law each year. Protections for the Hyde amendment were enshrined into Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and abortion services eliminated from the “high risk” insurance plans made available to women with “pre-existing conditions.” Abortion rights were a concession to secure rightwing backing for the ACA.
In the run up to the 2018 midterm elections, as the Democratic Party “resistance” searched for ways to regain majorities in both houses of Congress, party leadership, with their eyes on winning in conservative districts, announced that there would be no “litmus test” on abortion, meaning the Democratic Party would fund anti-abortion candidates as Democrats if they thought they “can win,” to use the words of NM Congressional Rep. Ben Ray Luján, then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
New Mexico’s “blue state” abortion ban
New Mexico is one of the nine states that retains a pre-Roe abortion ban even though the Democratic Party has consistently dominated all three vital centers of state political power—the state House, the state Senate and the governor’s office.
New Mexico Democrats had governing “trifectas” from 1992 to 1994 and again from 2003 to 2010, meaning they could have done whatever they wanted to do. Nevertheless, few pro-abortion bills of any kind were introduced, and they haven’t wanted to touch New Mexico’s pre-Roe ban, content to leave it lurking in the background as an invisible and little-known danger. So, even though many New Mexican Democratic Party politicians say they are for abortion rights, they have not been willing to spend a penny of political capital to pro-actively safeguard abortion or expand access to it. Meanwhile, 48 percent of women in New Mexico live in counties with no abortion clinic, and the rightwing assault continues.
January 15 is the opening day of the 2019 State Legislative Session in New Mexico. Following the November midterm elections, the Democratic Party once again has a “trifecta.” This time around, however, their ability to turn a blind eye to repealing New Mexico’s abortion ban, which they’ve done for 50 years, will be severely constrained. Why? Because New Mexico’s abortion ban is no longer a secret to New Mexico’s residents!
Grassroots organizers, including the Party for Socialism and Liberation, have been working round-the-clock for months bringing the issue of the ban and abortion access in general out of the shadows. Non-stop petitioning, town hall meetings, campus events, press conferences and months of door-to-door canvasing have thousands of people now scrutinizing Democratic lawmakers over the issue of abortion rights. This completely alters the political calculus for Democratic politicians in this year’s upcoming legislative session and beyond.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation in New Mexico is organizing a #RepealTheBan2019 mass rally on January 15 at the state capitol, coinciding with the opening of the legislative session.
Repealing abortion bans in New Mexico and elsewhere are an important step. However, the real struggles to defend Roe, repeal the Hyde amendment, and make abortion accessible and free for all women on demand still lay ahead.