We are coming up to the 41st anniversary of Roe vs Wade and Doe vs Bolton. A couple of days ago, I received an email from the Center for Reproductive Rights entitled “Victory in North Carolina” saying that a federal judge (Catherine Eagles) struck down the North Carolina law forcing physicians to give an intravaginal ultrasound and discuss it with patients seeking an abortion (see for further discussion: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2014/0118/North-Carolina-forced-ultrasound-law-struck-down-on-First-Amendment-grounds). This was seen as a victory. In the most obvious and narrow definition of the word, i.e., the defeat of the bill, it was a victory. However, the fact that we are facing increasing attacks on the ability of accessing a constitutional right 41 years after its being granted cannot be seen as a victory, it is demonstrable proof that patriarchy is still extremely powerful and has no intention of giving up the fight to control women’s bodies. Essentially, we are fighting a defensive struggle against an ideological perspective of divide and rule called patriarchy which can bring religion, power, and money to maintain male hegemony in the societies in which we live. That does not mean that all men are our enemies, we have many male allies in this struggle; but we need to recognise that this ideological perspective still exists and is not going to go quietly into the night. It also means that in order to address women’s liberation truly, we cannot concentrate on issues, but rather the general issue that is at stake.
Abortion rights must be addressed in the context of the general struggle for women’s liberation containing both the oppression of race and gender and class exploitation. That is the struggle that affects the majority of women worldwide. This is not to say that everyone must address every issue, but we must always keep the general picture in mind when we struggle on separate issues. Struggling to maintain Roe v Wade is necessary, but it is insufficient given the Hyde Amendment. Struggling for reproductive rights without recognising the general oppression of women means that that the issues that affect the majority of women remain in place. Non-recognition of the different histories of women of colour due to colonialism and racism means again that the voices of all women will be ignored.
Thanks to Elise Hendrick for comments on an earlier draft!