The International Backlash Against Abortion in the 1980's


In Ireland where our own constituition enshrines such edicts as "Mothers shall not be obliged _ _ _ _ _ to engage in labour to the neglect of therir duties in the home", the battle for abortion rights can seem like a mamouth up hill struggle. However what makes our fight even more difficult is the current onslaught which womens rights, in particular abortion rights are experiencing internationally. Even in those countries where limited abortion rights have been won they are now under constant attack.

In America the supreme court recently voted by 5 judges to 4 to enforce a restrictive Pennsylavania law which requires a mandatory waiting period foe women seeking abortions and forces teenagers to inform their parents of their intentions to have an abortion. The ruling was greeted with the headline in Village Voice "Court to women : Drop Dead". This ruling will only result in adding pressure to already frightened pregnant young teenaged girls. It also only further removes working class women from the rignht to abortion by increasing the ecomomic difficulties by having an enfoced waiting period. Many women cannot afford to take weeks of work in order to have one of the worlds safest operations.

Almost since the 'Roe Versus Wade' decision which legalized abortion in America in 1973; this basic right of women to control their own fertility has been under attack. In 1978 the Hyde ammendment deneyed the funding of abortion on the Federal Medicaid (like NHS). In 1984 Regan Administration forced a ban on funding to International Organisiations who counsell women on abortions. This does not help to alleviate the problem of an estimated 200,000 women dying in back street abotions every year. The drug RU-486 is still banned in America even though it would enable women to have safe abortions enduced at home. In America a doctor may refuse to treat a women, all he has to do by law is refer the woman to another Doctor. However the fight against abortion has not just been a legal one.

It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that the 'Right to Life' campaign can encompass such groups as "Operation Resuce" who specialize in terroizing women, staff and Doctors of the clinics.

Attacks ranging from bomb scares to sabotage and fire bombings. Even the odd Death Threat to Abotion Activists is not uncommon. In 1985 a private Clinic in Massachusettes said they would not be performing Abortions dus to "Acts of terrorism around the country and the constant harassment of our patients and ourselves have forced us to make this decision". Jan 18 1985

A bo0md scare at Manhattan Eastern Womens Hospital forced an evacuation of staff and women out into the street, many patients still groggy form pr-op anesthetic. Bill Baird an abortion activist has had threats on his life and his clinic on Long Island NY was fire bombed as early as 1979 . In 1984 a clinic in Pesacola, Florida was fire bombed over Christmas and the perpetrators claimed "It was a gift to Jesus on his birthday". In 1943 Hitler made abortion a crime punishable by death, it strikes me that there may be a number of people in the "Right to Life" campaign who may agree, given that the bombing of clinics is now one of their tactics.

In German law paragraph 218 permits abortion when there are 'indications of serious need' for medical or social reasons (poverty excluded) ans only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This type of restrictive law is one we must avoid in Ireland. In 1988 Dr Horst Theissen went on trial for performong Illegal Outpatient Abortions. He faced a minimim of 15 years in prison & disbarement from his profession if convicted. His "Crime" was to charge patients $130 to $270 for abortions , consultations, examinations and post-opertaion check ups. The state prosecutor admitted that "Poor women were treated free" by Dr Theissen. When asked why he broke the law the Dr replied that he "accepted the risk because he considered it unworthy, humilating and medically irresponsible to submit to medievalist laws". Previously that year two Nuremburg Gynacelogists were convicted on abortion counts one getting four years in prison. In Bavaria due to the counselling laws women have to meet Doctors, Counselors, Health officials Clergymen and Physciatrists before they will certify serious need for abortion. This is a further indication of how we have to make sure that the decision to terminate a pregnancy is left to the women herself and not a plethora of counsellors.

Recently in Birtain the House of Parliament voted on regulating what research could and could not be carried out on embryonic of fetal matieral. This is the first step on the murky path which leads to the ridiculous laws giving legal rights to the foetus. Already anti-abotionists are asking if the embryo has legal rights at 15 days how can it be aborted at 15 weeks. These arguments are being used to erode the limited abortion rights secured in 1967 Abortion Act. This Act allows termination of the pregnacny when it occurs in 'unsuitable circumstances'. This can be defined when two doctors must be convinced that giving brith will demage the womans of the childs physical or mental health. The law was also delibrately vague about facilities so that local health authorities were implementing the NHS cuts in the Gynacelogy Departments and some hosptals will refuse to carry out an abortion after the 12 week. Although the law initially specified up to 28 weeks recent moves have tried to limit this to 24. However it is getting increasingly difficult to find a clinic which will perform the operation after 20 weeks ( 7 Clinics in Britain ) and none after 24 weeks. These are all indications of the constant erosion of the rights won in the 1967 act. The situation in Britain leaves the Women concerned unacceptably at the mercy of MP's, Health Cuts, and didatic Doctors who continue to impose restrictions on what should be the womens decision.

In France there have been a number of recent 'Commando' like raids on clinics. In Lourde (Surprise, Surprise) on the 5th May this year a self style 'commando' tried to block the enterance of women to a clinic. At Nimes some person entered the clinic and prevented operations being performed that day. "SOS Babies" another crack oufit, invaded the clinic in Colombes near Paris, their Leader on Xavier Dos becomes over-excited and injures a woman in the process. A second attakc occured in the Pau clinic by "Operation Resuce" resulting in damage to equipment but there was a swift reply by the local collective for abortion rights (including women form the Federation of Anarchists). As you are aware the number of incidents like the ones I have already listed are becoming more prevalent as this issue is one again becomes the Battlefield for the attackers and defenders of Womens Rights.

The abortion issue is now a part of the Presidental election campaign in America with Clinton paying lip service to the freedom of choice and he has the backing of the National Orgainisiation of Women and the National Abortion Rights League (who's Chairwomen Kate Michleman is now a full time member of his campaign). However the Democrats Freedom of Choice act which they promise to introduce if they win the election will be diluted to pander to their more reactionary constituencies.

Historically it is important to remember that in 1973 the supreme court (under the nixon appointed Cheif Justice - Warren Burger) gave limited abortion rights as a concession to the newly formed Feminist movemnet and the radicalised youth of that time.

Only by getting people involved in social struggle and by being visible on the streets was any victory won. It is further proof (as if any were needed) that public movements determine political outlooks. Politicians are only as good or as bad as the last opinion pole they read. Yet, despite this NARL and NOW are both firmly behong Govenor Clintons campaign oblivious to the fact that in ARKANSAS (his home State) has one of the most invidious abortion laws.

As we observe the gradual and direct way that the right is stealing back the limited gains won by Women in America, Britain, and Germany we must pursue a very Active , Direct Campaign to win Abortion in this country. We must seek Free, Legal, Safe Abortion on DEMAND in Ireland because if we leave any gaps in our demands these will be exploited in order to impose further restrictions in teh future. We have to be aware and safe guard gainst the backlash which we are now observing internationally.

In the words of one man in America teh recent judgements didn't kill the 'Roe V Wade' Ruling " it gave the states permission to strangle it to death with REd TAPE ". When we win a victory for womens rights in this country lwt us make sure it is a permanent one safe from the hands of the beaurcratic stranglers. Let us make sure that the fundamental right of the woman to choose to have an abortiuon is her decision alone.

As Anarchists we recognise the fight for Abortion Rights as a class issue. Women have to be freed from the role of ' Homemaker' so that they can take up their righful place in society. They must have to freedom to choose when to have or not to have children. The ruling class use the idealogy of women playing teh centeral role in "Family Life" as a way to ensure less women look for work outside the home, in a time when they fail miserably to provide jobs. We in the WSM see Abortion as only one of the many obstacles which have to be overcome in order to gain some basic rights for women. Free creche facilities must be provided at workplaces, free readily availiable contraception, equal pay must finally be implemented. These rights along with abortion rights are on;ly a tep towards what amounts to human rights. It seems that under capitalism even the most basic of rights have to be fought for when they don't benefit the bosses.

Talk by Dermot Sreenan at WSM meeting, Wexford, October 1992