Women’s Rights

Democrats Had Many Chances to Pass a Federal Right to Abortion Care

The following is a lightly edited transcription from In the News, the weekly Tuesday show on The Socialist Program. Subscribe here.


The leaked draft decision from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade has sent tens of thousands of people into the streets. However, the Democratic Party’s response has mostly been hand-wringing.

While the leak is a completely heroic action, which I think was intended to provoke mass action, the Democrats’ response has really just been, “Well, you should go vote.” Senator Amy Klobuchar was on the Rachel Maddow Show, the day after the leak happened, last Tuesday on May 3rd, and her whole message was just go vote.

“If this is true, yes, we can be outraged, but we also have to plan. We are going into election year. We are going into the fall where women’s rights are going to be on the ballot. And so if nothing can get done in Washington because of Republican obstructionism, then the American people and women are going to have to vote. And people who believe in choice are going to have to vote.”

    Senator Amy Klobuchar on The Rachel Maddow Show, May 3, 2022The Democratic Party has had the majority in the House, the Senate, and the necessary additional vote for the Senate from the vice president, and, of course, the presidency, since Biden got into office. And not only has there been a bill that’s been drafted, the Women’s Health Protection Act that would codify Roe v Wade, but it also has been voted on — and it wasn’t just Republicans obstructing this bill. It was 46-48, and there were two senators in the Democratic Party who did not vote for this bill: Joe Manchin and Bob Casey. And then her very first thing is “We’re going to go vote at the ballot box. We’re going to wait till November.” As if nobody will need an abortion between now and November. After all, it’s not like no one has needed an abortion for the last 50 years as the right wing has ramped up all of their laws in various states that have limited one or another group of people from an abortion. They’ve limited abortion based on certain hospital admittance credentials and paperwork, or because the halls is are not a certain width. Women have needed abortion access through that whole process. And at any time during those 50 years, Democrats could have actually made this a priority. And they haven’t. What does this say?Esther:It makes me think about the Hyde Amendment, which has eliminated the ability of women receiving Medicaid to use those funds to receive an abortion. Even before this leak showed us that the Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe, they had already eliminated easy and rightful access to abortion care for many working class women who are receiving Medicaid.So the Democrats have been asleep at the wheel on this issue just like many others, and to claim that once again, we need to go out and vote for them because we can’t afford to lose out on this issue ignores the fact we’ve already lost out with them. They have not provided any advocacy for women on this issue and have not ensured that women have safety, care, or reproductive justice. We’ve got to talk fully about reproductive justice, not just whether you have a child or not, but whether you have a right to take care of your child, whether you have the means to take care of your child, whether society makes it possible for parents to take care of their children, to educate them, to feed them, to clothe them, to house them, and have a right not to have our children snatched from us under these other extraneous illegal measures, like what happened at the border, or what happens through these so-called child protection services that often penalize women for being poor despite being good mothers.Walter:And In a situation like this, the only thing that can possibly break the deadlock is mass struggle, hundreds of thousands and millions of people going into the streets and demanding that the politicians take action, and demanding that the Supreme Court justices back down. And we’ve seen that begin to emerge over the course of the last week.From the very day after the draft Supreme Court decision was heroically leaked, thousands of people took to the streets in cities all across the country. We’ve all been in the streets in the last week. The energy is so high. There is especially a lot of participation, very militant and enthusiastic participation by young people in these demonstrations. There’s a lot of vitality. Over the weekend, there were major demonstrations in lots of cities, and in lots of parts of the East Coast, there were rainstorms. But still, people came out. People were extremely fired up to fight about this issue. And I don’t think that enthusiasm is going anywhere.But the Democrats can’t possibly call for people to take to the streets, the one thing that can actually resolve this problem. For one thing, they don’t want to challenge the Supreme Court as an institution. In saying that mass pressure could force the Supreme Court to revise a draft ruling goes against one of the fundamental tenets of ruling class politics in the United States. That is the myth, which is obviously ridiculous, that the courts are above politics. This is promoted all the time: that they’re above society, and they’re simply a collection of experts in their ivory tower, considering what’s right and what’s wrong, what the law says and what the law doesn’t say. And objectively applying those judgments. That’s obviously not how the courts work. But that mythology is so important to the whole ruling class that the Democratic elites are not going to encourage people to take to the streets and force the Supreme Court to back down.And secondly, those politicians don’t want to do anything themselves, which is the other option. The Democrats could just pass a law codifying Roe into federal law. But the Democrats don’t want to get rid of the filibuster. The filibuster is the undemocratic rule — a rule, not a law — that requires 60 votes rather than 50 plus one to pass most pieces of legislation in the Senate. So the Democrats could decide to get rid of that and then subsequently decide, without needing any Republican votes, to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would legalize abortion at the federal level. They could do all of that. But they don’t want to do that either. And so the only thing to do is to force them, by disrupting business as usual, with so much mass mobilization, so much public expression of anger and outrage, that they feel like the cost of not doing it is actually greater than doing it.Nicole:Something that really proves and brings home what you’re saying, Walter, is that at the moment there are lots of clips going around on social media and lots of representatives in Congress, some Democrats performing this outrage that many of these justices who Trump nominated, when they were in their nomination hearings spoke out of both sides of their mouths when asked about whether they would overturn or support Roe v Wade.But when you really look at exactly what they said in the hearings, they’re noncommittal, just like the Mississippi governor was when he was quizzed by Jake Tapper about whether he was coming for birth control next. He said “well, our focus is on abortion.” He’s just not answering the question.But if Democrats are actually outraged and they actually believed that these justices would uphold Roe v Wade as precedent, as the historical pattern of the Supreme Court, then why wouldn’t they attack the institution right now? Why wouldn’t they call for mass protest?In fact, if they knew this whole time that this was what was going to happen, then why didn’t they actually force Manchin and Casey and Sinema to end the filibuster and pass the Woman’s Health Protection Act? Let’s remember in 2020 how much the Democrats pushed that, “Send all your money down to Georgia to get these last senators, these nice Democratic senators, then we’ll have a majority!” What’s the point of a majority if you won’t use it to pass anything significant? Nearly 90% of US counties are without a single abortion provider already and five states are down to their last clinic. So don’t pretend that all of a sudden we see this leak and now all of a sudden we need action on this. So the Democrats needed to have acted on this for the last 50 years, and they haven’t. So it just rings so hollow when you hear Amy Klobuchar say, “well, gosh, golly, we really got a vote this November. That’s what’s going to do it.”Even the press knows this, too. In The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, an article referring to the Women’s Health Protection Act reads: “The main item on the docket is a Senate vote on Wednesday to take up legislation creating a federal statute that assures health care providers ability to provide an abortion before a fetus is viable and that a patient has a right to undergo one. The vote has no chance of succeeding in the 50-50 Senate, but Democrats think disagreement with Republicans on the issue could help them at the polls.”Nicole:They’re just writing out plainly what is so clear— this is playing politics.

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about the author

Nicole Roussell

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