Throwing Poor Women under the Bus

Posted: February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

By now, the news has gone viral.  The Susan G. Komen “For the Cure” Foundation, will no longer be funding mammograms at Planned Parenthood or its affiliates.  The stated reason is issues of funding accountability, but the decision is the result of right-wing lobbying determined to prevent women from accessing abortion.

Consider the climate in which SGK made this decision.  Last year, more than 1,000 anti-choice bills–with the stated aim of limiting or eliminating access to abortion services–were brought forward in the United States.  In North Carolina, lawmakers attempted to institute a new waiting period for abortions, and they tried to require a woman to look at an ultrasound of the fetus or to have the fetus described to her before she was allowed to have an abortion.  Both of these measures were temporarily vetoed, but very well may have the vetoes overridden soon.  Last week, a GOP lawmaker called for a return to public hanging, with the first targets being abortion providers.  A recent New York Times op-ed highlighted the difficulties pregnant women face in trying to maintain their employment–and the difficulty they face finding another job after being pushed out of their old one.

But there is also a climate of growing resistance.  It had been several quiet years since the March for Women’s Lives before the eruption of the Slutwalks–which began in April after a Toronto police officer told women that in order to avoid being raped, they should avoid dressing like “sluts.”  The wildfire popularity and spread of the Slutwalks, which in a matter of months had then taken place in Boston, Greensboro, South Africa, Nicaragua, and more than a hundred places around the world, was a sign of a changing political climate–a climate of revolution, a climate that fostered that fostered an even faster growth and spread of the Occupy movement mere months later.  In the massive uprisings in the Middle East and the revolution in Egypt, women stood their ground demanding human dignity and political respect.  The assault of a female protester in Egypt resulted in a women’s march the next day–tens of thousands strong.

And this is the climate we must consider before analyzing what the Komen decision means–or rather, how to build opposition to it.

Planned Parenthood provides services to many women, but the majority of them are working and low-income women.  Many don’t have insurance.  For many, the health services they access at Planned Parenthood are the only regular medical services they receive.

On the other hand, middle and upper class women, who have insurance and can afford regular medical care and specialist treatment, are in a fundamentally different situation.  This decision will not impact their ability to access mammograms or any other health services, including abortion for most.

The divide that emerges is very similar to the one that broke up the women’s movement of the 1970s–one that mostly represented the interests of white, wealthy and middle class women, one that threw working women and women of color under the bus when it came to issues like welfare and maternity leave.  The question of fighting for the services Planned Parenthood offers–and pushing that fight further, for free abortion on demand, free birth control, and single payer healthcare–is not simply an issue about being pro-choice or anti-choice.  It’s a question of class interest.

For this reason, the existence of Occupy, and the re-emergence of class struggle in the United States, provides a promising alternative to an identity politics “solution”.  (It’s hard to call something that is bound to fail eventually a solution.)  Access to services at Planned Parenthood (as a very low baseline) is not just a women’s issue.  It is a working class issue–and a central one.  Just like welfare.  Just like maternity leave.

If we leave the Planned Parenthood issue as a women’s issue, the resistance to decisions like the Komen decision is bound to fail.  It’s an attack on women, sure.  But it’s a much stronger attack on working and poor women.  And as scrolling through the Komen page will tell you, the class divisions are already starting to emerge as some women urge others to not “abandon” the Komen foundation (which deserves some serious criticizing in its own right) and to “get their mammograms from another source.”

A working women’s movement–together with the rest of the burgeoning working class movement–has the real power to fight these attacks, and to make a better world for ALL women




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