Social progress in the United States is constantly contested, primarily by the Christian far right. The recognition of rights of people that have been marginalised in US history are seen as encroaching on the rights of those who believe themselves to have “founded” the country — i.e. heteronormative white men of a propertied class.
Over the past year, the attacks against critical race theory, trans kids, and other LGBTQ+ people have intensified. Emboldened by the Trump regime’s overt opposition to the human rights and dignity of anyone deemed outside of the dominant group identity, the far right has worked relentlessly to ban books, prohibit the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools, criminalise trans youth and their parents, and restrict pregnant people’s access to abortion.
Now, with the leaked draft majority opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito deciding to overturn Roe v. Wade, the legal edifice for many rights for women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour face a revitalised threat. If this opinion is adopted by the Court in June, abortion will likely be immediately banned by at least 26 US states. Anti-abortion campaigners and politicians will likely pursue a nation-wide ban. And because the rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade are premised on the right to privacy, legal experts and activists predict an onslaught of attacks against other gains based on the right to privacy, including access to contraception, same-sex and interracial marriage, the de-criminalisation of gay sex, and more.
Abortion and the right to be free
The leaked draft opinion is based on the argument that abortion is not referenced in the US constitution, therefore “no right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision” and no such right is “deeply rooted in this nation’s history.” Leaving aside arguments that this is an erroneous legal interpretation, the idea that only rights enshrined in the constitution are applicable today means that no marginalised people can have rights because there is a deeply-rooted history of them not having rights. There is a deeply-rooted history of slavery and servitude, of forced sterilization of Black and Indigenous women, of men’s ownership of women, and the violent persecution and attempted erasure of LGBTQ+ people.
This horrific history, it seems, is the direction towards which Alito’s draft ruling, and the larger US right-wing project underway, seeks to take the country. It threatens to curtail long-fought rights and freedoms of so many people. As feminist Moira Donegan writes, this would be a ruling “so cruel, so personal and so life-altering on half its population, that those subject to this imposition cannot be called free.”
But it’s important to remember that despite Roe v. Wade, many pregnant people in the United States have already not been free. “Working class and poor people have, for decades, experienced the reproductive dystopia that better-off people now fear,” note the editors of Lux magazine. “Reproduction has always been subject to an authoritarian level of control and surveillance for hundreds of thousands of people in this country, a reality that is beginning to seep into the sense of safety long felt by middle-class white people.”
For decades, anti-abortion campaigners have worked with right-wing politicians to make abortion as difficult to access as possible for as many people as possible. “The burden has fallen disproportionately on people of color, those with low incomes, those living in more rural areas of the country, young people, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people,” explains The Intercept. “Doing away with Roe is only going to exacerbate those inequities.” And, as feminists abroad have warned, outlawing abortion in the United States will likely act as a catalyst for the same in other countries.
War against the oppressed
Forcing people to give birth is an act of violence. Beyond the immediate dangers of pregnancy and birth, the United States has no universal healthcare or childcare, it has the highest rates in the so-called developed world for maternal mortality, and it does not provide for adequate or affordable access to housing, education, or food security.
Thus, outlawing abortion – as well as criminalising LGBTQ+ people or preventing critical conversations about race — is not about protecting babies or children. It is about women and queer people’s and people of colour’s autonomy, personhood, rights, freedom, dignity, and lived reality. It is about oppressing those who have in the past been treated as property of the dominant group at the time the US constitution was written, or those who the dominant group would prefer did not exist at all.
There is, in effect, a war being waged against those not in the historically dominant group. And this war is materially and ideologically related to US war in general.
The US spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year on militarism — the presidential request for 2023 is an unprecedented $773 billion. So, while forcing people to give birth and refusing to provide care for parents or children, the US government instead provides for the waging of war. It also provides for the policing and imprisonment of those deemed “criminal” for not fitting into its system of oppression domestically — the US spends another $118 billion a year on its police forces, which means US police budgets collectively rank as the world’s third-largest military expenditure.
The criminalisation of abortion will lead to further surveillance, policing, prosecution, and incarceration. Together with the criminalisation of trans kids and parents, of discussion about diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, and of teaching about racist history and realities, the attacks on the rights and dignity of anyone from the non-dominant group will be a boon for the prison-industrial complex.
The US military, meanwhile, acts as a global police force, controlling and enacting violence against people all over the world. This, too, is racialised and gendered. The US military drops bombs (or sells bombs to be dropped) on people of colour in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on, while decrying the same behaviour by Russia in Ukraine. US media highlights the death of a pregnant woman in Ukraine and uses pictures of women with infants as centerpieces for why military support for Ukraine is essential, notes antiwar feminist Sophie Pinkham, as if no pregnant people have ever been killed by US bombs. The same is true of US media reporting on the horrific sexual violence inflicted by Russian soldiers, as if Abu Grahib and other countless examples of rape by US soldiers has never occurred.
The US government also uses the oppression of women as justification to invade other countries, such as Afghanistan, even while oppressing women and LGBTQ+ people at home. Under the Biden administration, the government has talked a good game on gender equality yet is not acting to protect abortion rights beyond sending out fundraising emails for the Democratic Party. Instead, the government deployed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) along with police to beat up people protesting the threat to Roe v. Wade.
A state that strips its citizens and residents of their rights and then sends police into the streets to beat and arrest them for protesting can only be described as a police state. The fact that DHS officers were involved, just as they were involved in violently suppressing Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, signals that regardless of the party in power, the state will use its extraordinarily well-funded militarised police forces to suppress dissent against violations of human rights and dignity.
Abolition and liberation
While some US citizens are just waking up to this reality, the most marginalised living in this country have long felt the effects of living in a police state. Those who in recent years have been shocked into action against white supremacist police brutality and now against restrictions on abortion will need to learn from the struggles of those who already suffer from state violence, both within the United States and in other countries.
In this context, abolition should be a dominant demand of all those organising for abortion rights, queer rights, and racial justice. Abolishing police, prisons, surveillance, war, and more are all part of the same struggle. Solidarity across movements and across borders will be imperative. Learning from and being guided by those living under oppression is essential, as is articulating and demanding an expansionist politics of care and justice for all.