Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. The tradition of celebrating this day started in 1909, when the Socialist Party of America celebrated National Women’s Day on 28 February; since then it has shifted its focus and its date (although it has always been held either at the end of February or the beginning of March). Although it began as something of a sop from male-dominated socialist organizations to their women’s auxiliary, in the years since then it has become a major date for feminist organizing (usually with an international or global focus). So: many happy returns!
Today I want to honor the occasion with a reflection, and a call to action. Abortion rights are the front line of the battle over women’s reproductive rights, and women’s reproductive rights are an absolutely central issue in the struggle for women’s liberation. A woman has the right to control her own body, and that includes her uterine walls; that means that no-one, neither a foetus nor the State, can rightfully compell her to carry a pregnancy to term if she wants to end it. Any State that says or acts otherwise is legalizing reproductive slavery; the forced pregnancies, the jailing of women who defy the prohibition, and the back-alley butcheries that will inevitably rise again if abortion is outlawed are nothing less than forms of State violence against women.
Those who are against abortion are saying nothing more and nothing less than that they have the right to force women not to end their pregnancies against their will; they are saying that if someone else depends on the use of a woman’s body (even if that
someone else is, as it usually is, an undifferentiated cluster of cells or an embryo no larger than a grain of rice) she does not have the right to say
No. They are, that is, saying that they have the right to control her body and her behavior just because she has a womb—that is, just because she is a woman. In this respect the George W. Bushes and Jerry Falwells of the world are no different from batterers and rapists writ large. (That there are anti-choice women does not impact the analysis, either: a woman who professes the right to force other women to carry their pregnancy to term because those other women are women and pregnancy is a woman’s natural duty is no better than a man who does this. Nevertheless, it’s worth pointing out that 77% of anti-abortion leaders are men…)
The struggle for abortion rights is one of the most striking human rights victories of our time. It’s a history that deserves to be remembered and taught. But the Right has sensationalized the debate and effectively intimidated schools and the media from discussing it in any meaningful way; and, given the cultural black-out and general historical amnesia about the feminist movement, far too many people of my generation are tragically out of touch with the history of the movement and the historical facts about its origins.
Do you trust these guys to protect reproductive rights?
We need to honor the memory of the radical feminist movement for abortion rights, which over the course of only 5 years radically remade women’s reproductive rights throughout the country. Abortion rights were not given by nine old men on the Supreme Court—they were won by a vibrant, well-organized, daring, brave, courageous, outrageous movement. We are learning more and more every day just how precarious abortion rights are when they are trusted to good will of the government. (Particularly this government. You might think my comparison to batterers and rapists is harsh; but all I have to add is that, failing that, John Ashcroft also seems determined to treat women like a stalker.)
So what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with a renewed commitment to the struggle for abortion rights—and to help rebuild a movement based on women’s self-defense against government aggressions, rather than wheedling favors from judges and government bureaucrats.
You can take a first step by joining the March for Freedom of Choice, April 25 2004. Feminists of all stripes will be out in force: from liberal feminists to radical cheerleaders and purple bloc anarchists. L. and I will be going; if you can make it, everyone will be glad to have you! You can get more information and get involved at the March coalition website.
Radical feminism: because your body belongs to you, not to Jerry Falwell.
Postscript: I have some exciting news about a new pro-choice project that I am going to roll out sometime later today or in the next few days, depending on the breaks. Watch this space!