The attack on Roe and reproductive rights is an attack on democracy — connected and not dissimilar to the January 6 riot at the capitol. As all eyes are on the January 6 hearings, I want to connect the assault on women’s bodies, in all their variety, especially Black bodies, as central to the assault on the promise of democracy.
If the January 6 attack on the capitol should have all people who love freedom and equality on high alert, so should the Court’s attack on bodily integrity and the right to determine choices about abortion.
Racism and misogyny are at the helm of this right-wing dismantling of choice and access for people determining their lives. The murder of abortion doctors and clinic health care workers and the bombing of abortion clinics is carried out by the people and forces who wish to destroy any promise of sexual, gender or racial equality.
The right-wing assault on democracy is located both inside and outside the U.S. state — it structures the dysfunction of our government with Republicans obstructing and denying any moves towards democracy and Democrats lacking the courage or commitment to alleviate the suffering of so many of us: houseless people, the uninsured, COVID sufferers, gun violence and climate crisis victims.
Therefore, in the long-term, abolition is the answer.
The retraction of Roe is embedded and a spur to our present abortion chaos with its suffering. It is especially a catastrophe for Black women who die at four times the rate of white women while pregnant, which makes it a crisis for democracy. It is a tsunami for women’s — trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, and undocumented — equality and liberation.
Before Roe was gutted, Mississippi was already a wasteland for abortion access. According to writer Michele Goodwin, a Black woman was 118 times more likely to die by carrying a pregnancy to term than by having an abortion. AND Black women are 2-to-3 times more likely to die than white women during pregnancy. AND about 40% of the women who get abortions are Black. These egregious statistics will now worsen. Black women will be at greater risk of death and increased poverty. It is long known that abortion allows women to maintain jobs and better determine their lives.
In “The Color of Gender” in 1994, I wrote, “starting with pregnant women of color an antiracist diversity must be at the core of equality and democracy. And a revisioning of democracy must start with reproductive rights.” Black women are the canary in the mine, suffering disproportionately and yet at the ready to mobilize against injustice.
The high risk that Black women already face in their pregnancies due to the racist health system puts them in peril; even Serena Williams suffered greatly during her delivery when no one listened to her about her threat of embolisms. Given this, the dismantling of Roe can be said to be a potential death sentence especially for Black women. And the racist misogyny of the Supreme Court could not be clearer.
Racism is unhealthy for Black women; and race and class are not conflatable here. Scholars and activists like Dorothy Roberts (“Killing the Black Body”), Michele Goodwin (“Pregnancy and the New Jane Crow”), and Linda Villarosa (“Under The Skin”), document and indict the racism that structures Black women’s bodies. Meanwhile, the U.S. ranks highest among wealthy nations for pregnancy and childbirth deaths even before you control for race.
Tonya Lewis Lee chronicles America’s Black maternal mortality crisis in her new documentary, “Aftershock.” The film tells the stories of Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose’s deaths, showing “that a Black woman giving birth can be as dangerous as a Black man at a traffic stop with the police.”
Neither Roe Nor the State Can Free Us
The criminalizing of women’s choices has always been disproportionately the most punishing for women of color, especially poor women, but now add to the mix middle class white women. We are all potentially criminals now, enemies of the state with fewer citizen rights. There is a new possibility for cross-race sharedness that I want to nurture.
Instead of being ready for the right-wing takeover of the Court and the dismissal of Roe, the Democratic party, and especially President Biden, has been flat-footed and lacking.
It is not un-important that Biden said on record in response to Roe in 1974, “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” And in 2006: “I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it’s always a tragedy, and I think that it should be rare and safe.”
Barack Obama when speaking of the Affordable Care Act said “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that Federal funds are not used for abortion services (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered), consistent with … the Hyde Amendment.” And Nancy Pelosi in 2017: “… let’s not spend too much time [on abortion]. It’s kind of fading as an issue.”
So, when we are told to make sure and vote in 2022 and 2024 and remove the Republicans, I agree. But just make sure you know that this is a necessary, but insufficient (reform) act to move towards democracy, and Democrats are not the answer. Abolition of the racist misogynist state is.
What to do? Do anything to enhance your vote, but what is that “anything” when you are encased in a culture that tells you nothing really matters. Thinking about making something matter even if you know it is too small, too little, not enough, is important. This means support codifying Roe even though it is strategically insufficient to begin with, because it is at present necessary. But then we also need to make something more happen.
So, yes, vote the criminal Republicans out of office and do whatever we can to reinstate Roe, insufficient as it has always been, but also keep imagining abolishing our police state and know that the carceral state can never allow the liberation of any of us. And never get confused to think that the Democrats can ever be enough. We must move forward to the abolition of an unjust state and criminal prison system.
One’s belief in “mass uselessness” is a dangerous political identity, so progressive anti-racist feminists need to create consciousness, imagination, camaraderie every chance we get. Do not let people make you feel that if you are doing something outside the established political arena, you are doing nothing. We need activism everywhere.
When you vote, use your vote to remind yourself that you must also help make a revolution. So, we need abortion and reproductive rights re-instated while we abolish the police/ing state that has criminalized us all.
Policing by the Predator State
The recent Dobbs ruling overturning Roe is a culmination of the police/ing that surrounds and defines too much of everyday life. And, as the welfare state was defunded and destroyed by neoliberal capitalists and misogynist racist capitalists, we are left with a state that primarily polices and incarcerates, rather than enables or enhances.
Borders and labor flows across the globe become a main site of state surveillance of migrants and refugees. As much as 70% of refugees today are women and children escaping wars and climate disaster. Instead of assisting people, this newest state apparatus incarcerates and surveils and defines who is a part of the society, and who is not.
The levels of sexual violence and rape are at increased occurrence especially in these sectors — just as abortion law becomes the newest regulator of who has citizen rights and its protections.
The decision to gut Roe that potentially criminalizes all women was orchestrated by six right-wing zealots who were not even elected in the first place. Instead, three of them were appointed by a sexual predator, former President Trump. And three of these members of the Court have been charged with sexual harassment.
In the U.S., polls show 70% to 80% of people support abortion choice for people seeking one. Denying this reality is not what democracy is supposed to look like. If it has not been clear enough to (white) women when Roe was the law of the land that too many women were criminalized and policed in our carceral culture, it should be clear by now what this means.
As we focus on this dire and threatening situation for all people facing unchosen pregnancy of every kind, and most especially Black and Brown people, we have a new opportunity to organize for women’s — trans, cis, non-binary, disabled, undocumented — liberation in a new cross-racial/class way. We cannot get ahead of history, but we can fall behind if we do not grab the incredible progressive possibilities that now exist. Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Trans. We need to be careful to think about all of us in this newly criminalizing police state and abolish the structures of power suffocating us, and repair and create anew.
Meanwhile, take a small step and vote against the Republicans while dreaming of freedom. And begin to imagine what you and the rest of us will do with that freedom.
Zillah Eisenstein is a noted international feminist writer and activist and Professor Emerita, Political Theory, Ithaca College. She is the author of many books, including “The Female Body and the Law” (UC Press, 1988), which won the Victoria Schuck Book Prize for the best book on women and politics; “Hatreds” (Routledge., 1996), “Global Obscenities” (NYU Press, 1998), “Against Empire” (Zed Press, 2004), and most recently, “Abolitionist Socialist Feminism” (Monthly Review Press, 2019).