Abortion Rights: Beyond the Killing Confines of Liberal Mis-leadership

Photograph Source: Lorie Shaull – CC BY 2.0

Fear of the Mob: The Liberal Mis-leadership Class

United States “democracy” is plagued by the presence of an elitist liberal mis-leadership class that fears the “mob” and “rabble” – everyday citizens and the working-class majority – more than it worries about right-wing (now neofascist) rule. This liberal “elite” is militantly opposed to popular movements. It rejects popular demands and indeed sees “demand” as a bad word. It maintains a dogged faith in existing bourgeois-“democratic” and constitutional rules, methods, institutions, and procedures no matter how completely those rules, methods, institutions, and procedures have been subverted and captured by the right. It is doctrinally committed to lobbying and litigation, work by professionals, which they see as the only safe and effective way to “get things done.” It works to tamp down rank-and-file energies and channel popular anger into the nation’s regular candidate-centered major party electoral extravaganzas. The liberal mis-leadership class, loaded with Ivy League graduates, will let the nation go fascist before it will mobilize masses by the millions to fight for human rights, equality, and decency.

The Right-Wing Campaign to Kill Roe Hits the Jackpot

A leading example of this problem concerns US-American women’s gravely endangered right to control their reproductive lives. A national poll from the Marquette University Law School last January found that a strong super-majority – nearly three fourths, 72% – of US-Americans support the continuation of women’s legal access to abortion services to terminate unwanted and dangerous pregnancies, as guaranteed under the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The finding that most US citizens oppose overturning Roe v. Wade (hereafter “Roe”) is hardly new. Large US majorities have long backed legal abortions. They continue to do so, contrary to right-wing arguments falsely claiming that a societal shift to support for the theocratic notion of “fetal personhood” justifies overturning the half-century constitutional Roe precedent. No such shift had taken place.

But so what? Roe is being steadily overturned at the state level, where right-wing forces have exploited US federalism (“states’ rights”) to mercilessly assault abortion rights. And now, at some point in the next three months, a US Supreme Court far to the right of the US populace is expected to effectively repeal Roe. It will rule in a case poised to rewrite and even eliminate abortion rights throughout half or more of the country.

In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (hereafter “Dobbs”), the far right state of Mississippi asked the Court to approve its 15-week abortion ban, a move that would overturn Roe. Roe supposedly banned states from outlawing abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb — roughly 24 weeks into a pregnancy. But the decision did not stop reactionary Bible Belt states from passing “pre-viability” bans in anticipation of a legal challenge they hoped would place their case in front of the Court.

Dobbs is the case and moment long dreamed of by the woman-hating patriarchal reactionaries. They hit the jackpot with the 6-3 right-wing Court created by the Donald Trump White House and a Republican-controlled US Senate, who placed three abortion opponents on the Court between April 2017 and October of 2020. By all indications, this Court is primed to kill Roe. Oral arguments before the Court on Dobbs began last December and a decision is due this spring or early summer. The six revanchist justices who make up the Court’s anti-abortion super-majority in the wake of Trump’s fascist presidency (see my latest book This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America on the accuracy of that characterization) have nodded along as “Mississippi’s arguments have repeatedly strained credulity,” signaling that they intend to let the 15-week ban stand by gutting or overturning Roe. Another grave sign was the Court’s refusal last September to suspend the unprecedented and vigilante-enforced six-week ban passed by the hard right Republisexists atop Texas’s arch-reactionary state government. (Texas’s notorious Senate Bill 8 offers a $10,000 reward to anyone willing to report those they suspect of “aiding and abetting” abortion.)

The Trump Handmaid Court’s conduct has generated a flood of anti-abortion bills pending in state legislatures. As New York magazine’s Clair Lampen reported one week ago:

‘In the first ten months of 2021, 19 states passed a total of 106 restrictions, with more added to the tally by the end of the year. Assuming Roe now has an expiration date, conservative state legislatures are looking forward: Twelve already have trigger bans on the books that will sever access as soon as federal protections fall; Mississippi is among the dozen states with six-week bans enjoined by a court order; others never removed the restrictions they had in place before Roe. And now, many states are also scrambling to pass 15-week bans as “placeholders until they can get the six-week or total ban in place.”…on March 14, Idaho passed a six-week ban based on Texas’s, and …Idaho…allows…family members of what the bill calls a “preborn child” to sue the provider for at least $20,000.’

In what Vogue called “the latest blow in what seems like a never-ending assault on reproductive rights,” a bill advanced last March by a malevolent moron in the miserable, male-supremacist monstrosity that is the state government of Missouri seeks to enlist that state in flat-out femicide by prohibiting abortions even in cases of ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies kill mothers along with fetuses. The bill in question also makes it illegal for women to take “the morning after pill” in cases of rape.

A So-Called Leader Speaks: “When We are No Longer Defending Roe

So what are the nation’s leading liberal pro-choice organizations doing to protect Roe from reversal? Surely, you might think, these “radical feminist” groups that the right is always bitching about are taking their cue from recent Latin American abortion rights victories and building a great popular movement to flood the nation’s streets and public squares with masses of women, girls, and their male and transgendered allies to tell the Trump Handmaid Court to back off from undoing a basic human right backed by most US citizens and won for and by women through decades of struggle…right?

Nope. Think again. The mob-fearing elitists atop the leading liberal “choice” groups reject mass mobilization to try to stop the Minority Rule American System’s[1] Simon Says high court from implementing a critical component of the Amerikaner Christian fascist agenda: the re-imposition of the de facto female enslavement that is forced motherhood.

Listen to the recent comments of Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill-Johnson. Ms. McGill-Johnson recently had the gall to travel to the ground zero anti-abortion fascist state of Texas to say that “the question we have to ask ourselves in this moment is not if Roe is going to fall. The question is who are we going to be when we are no longer defending Roe.”

Read that again. McGill-Johnson embraced advance surrender by jumping ahead to “when we are no longer defending Roe.” How on Earth is Ms. McGill-Johnson “defending Roe” when she says it’s already dead before it has been killed?

Who will Alexis McGill-Johnson and her elitist ilk be after Roe falls and they made no effort to mobilize millions to save it? Complicit enablers and appeasers, that’s who.

McGill-Johnson went on:

‘There is no state, including Texas, where banning abortion is popular. And yet, state after state, what we have seen, has been a series of rule changes, of gerrymandering, of weaponizing rules change and remake the judiciary. All of which has conspired to allow for this proliferation of bans across all of these states. We are literally asking for permission to take care of our own health care, our own bodies, and make decisions for ourselves. And permission from lawmakers who don’t even understand how our bodies work.’

“Asking for permission” – and on the ridiculous assumption that male-supremacist Republifascist legislators are advancing female enslavement because they are ignorant of how female bodies function? Seriously? No. As the revolutionary feminist Sunsara Taylor notes, in a brilliant refutation, the Republikaners waging war on Roe are “driven by hatred and a desire to control women. They talk about women as ‘host bodies!’”

Requesting “permission” to control one’s own reproductive life? For real? Try “DEMAND the right to take care of our own bodies.” As thousands of abortions rights activists and their allies have chanted in the streets this year: “Abortion on Demand, Without Apology- Without This Basic Right, Woman’s Can’t be Free!”

“Who are we going to be,” McGill-Johnson asked in Texas, “when we are unleashed to actually have a conversation around where true equality fits and sits in the Constitution and how is that going to galvanize us to fight?”

What? The US Constitution[1], drafted by and for slaveholders and other propertied male elites for whom democracy and equality (including gender equality) were the ultimate nightmares, grants massive power for US states to defy national popular opinion. It creates an openly undemocratic, right-leaning presidential election system, a preposterously powerful and absurdly malapportioned national legislative upper-chamber that drastically overrepresents the country’s most reactionary regions and people, and an absurdly powerful national Supreme Court well to the right of the populace. True equality – something the holy Founders never wished to see breakout in their patriarchal slaveowners’ republic – does not really “fit and sit in the Constitution.”

And who does McGill-Johnson think is going to be “unleashed” when Roe is overturned?! Abortion rights activists, who are supposedly prevented from “actually hav[ing] a conversation” about gender equality and the US Constitution by Roe? No: as Sunsara Taylor points out, the people who will be “unleashed” are the arch sexist Republifascist policymakers, who will go ballistic with horrific anti-abortion laws across the nation.

Being Part of the Street Rage to Channel it Into Votes for Democrats

And then there’s this head-shaking formulation from Alexis-Johnson – a depressing epitome of the liberal misleader and corporate-professional class mindset: “The rage that is going to be in the streets…we have to be part of that…We have to make sure that we are educating everybody about what is at stake…We are talking about kind of what we heard [?] and making sure that [face turned to alarmed Texas audience] we’re encouraging people to vote like, literally like their life depended on it, because it does.”

Wow. Sunsara Taylor has the perfect response:

So here Alexis-Johnson recognizes that there will be rage in the streets. She recognizes that there is a potential and a simmering rage beneath the surface right against this assault. But she insists that all this rage be channeled back into the elections, back into the killing confines of this system – these confines that never serve the people and always serve the system. These elections, which now are increasingly dominated by the fascist Republican Party and rigged. She even began by admitting this. She talked about the gerrymandering. She talked about the weaponizing of rule changing. She talked about the judiciary being seized by fascists. And yet she still insists that this rage be channeled back into these killing confines.[1] So-called leaders like this are so enslaved to the system that they are willing to facilitate the enslavement of women. And if people go along with this, if people follow this mis-leadership, not only will this…bring a nightmare to women beyond what most people have even begun to imagine…this will accelerate the whole fascist dynamic, laced with white supremacy and hatred of immigrants, the assault on LGBTQ rights, the assault on science and the recognition of climate change and so much more. And it will further the very negative dynamic of otherwise decent people learning to accept one horror after another.”

“We Believe in the Power of the People”

A vast majority of US citizens want Roe to stay intact and Planned Parenthood will do nothing really to mobilize women and their allies as a mighty force to try to prevent US “democracy’s” absurdly right-wing high court from signing off on a return to forced motherhood. Much the same can be said of other “leading” pro-choice organizations, for whom fear of the mob and cringing captivity to corporate- and professional class-coordinated electoralism and the deeply conservative Democratic Party of Hollow Resistance trump willingness to fight the ever more normalized and mainstreamed neofascist right. Look, for example at NARAL, once seen as standing to the activist pro-choice left of Planned Parenthood. “Today, with 2 million members representing every state in the union and Washington, DC,” the leading national pro-choice group NARAL says, “we’re on the front lines of the fight to preserve and expand reproductive freedom and abortion access in the 21st century. We believe in the power of people to make a difference.”

How does NARAL show its “belie[f] in the power of the people”? Its twenty-seven 2022 press releases (as of April 5th) tell a depressing but standard liberal class story of complicit subordination. Not one of those press releases calls for masses in the streets to stop the fascist assault on women. The documents endorse Democratic Party candidates in upcoming primary elections, praise Biden for appointing a pro-choice Black woman to replace Stephen Briar on the right-wing 6-3 high Handmaid Court, praise Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) for holding a vote on the doomed Women’s Health Protection Act, denounce some of the worst Republican state anti-abortion bills, and advance doomed Democratic voting rights and filibuster reform efforts in the Senate.

NARAL’s press and public outreach could have all been written by a Democratic Party Congressional staffer or campaign publicist. They all function within and for “the killing confines” of a system[1] rigged for vicious woman-hating and right-wing minority rule outcomes – a system poised to kill Roe (because “states’ rights” and Supreme Court Simons Say) even though three in four US-Americans want to keep Roe. It’s all about pouring popular energies into that great coffin of popular resistance – the US major party ballot box.

Thankfully, people seriously opposed to the reinstatement of forced motherhood don’t have to rely on Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the dismal, dollar-drenched, depressing, and demobilizing Democrats. There’s another path of actual popular resistance and demand being led by the organization RiseUp4 Abortion Rights (RU4AR). As RU4AR argues:

Now is the time for everyone who believes that women and girls are full human beings – not incubators – to act to prevent a great horror…The attack on abortion rights is part of a patriarchal Christian fascist program [that]…hits poor women, and especially Black and other women of color, with vicious consequence – tightening the chains of both white supremacy and the subjugation of women… Compelling women to carry unwanted and/or dangerous pregnancies hijacks their bodies, their safety, their lives, their sexual autonomy, their aspirations and accomplishments, and their life-long relations in the service of patriarchal domination.

Forced motherhood is female enslavement…Yet all too many pro-choice leaders and Democratic Party politicians preach a “realism” of accepting the Court’s gutting of abortion rights. They tell us to dig in for the “long-haul” of the electoral process or to focus on helping women induce their own abortions. Whatever their intent, this amounts to capitulating in advance to the enslavement of women and an overall nightmare for humanity.

The violent subjugation of half of society must not be accommodated, excused, downplayed, or surrendered to. IT MUST BE STOPPED!

If we leave this to Congress, the Courts, and State Legislatures and do not fill the streets with people determined to stop this, then there is virtually no hope for stopping this assault. But if we, in our multitudes, stand up in uncompromising defiance then there is a possibility—not a certainty, but a real possibility—that we could beat back this assault and begin to change the whole political dynamic in this country.

Our only way forward and our best way forward is to resist. To step outside the confines of “official” politics and fill the streets with our fury. Growing in numbers, in cities and small towns, uniting all who can be united and coming back stronger in continuing, sustained, nonviolent mass protest. Shaking all of society from the streets to the arts and sciences with our determination. Drawing inspiration from the mighty outpourings of women and others around the world against patriarchal degradation. Changing the whole political atmosphere throughout society and what women-haters – from the Supreme Court to the State Houses to the streets – feel they can get away with. Rising up with courage and conviction to defeat this assault while bringing closer a future where women and all people are free.

…NOW is the time to hold nothing back. NOW is the time to rouse thousands and soon millions in struggle so that we can look every woman and girl in the eye with the promise in word and deed that they will have a future as full human beings. NOW is the time to stand up, together, as if our lives depend upon it—for, in fact, they do.

RU4AR will be on the streets and in the public squares tomorrow. Join them. Wear a green bandana (the abortion rights symbol that has emerged across Latin America) and try to attend one of at least nine RU4AR events being held across the country (see this protest map). Sign their petition here.


1. Let’s briefly review the killing confines of the US Constitution – a widely ignored but critical topic. (Many of my previous writings on this topic are embedded in the current essay’s hyperlinks). Created by and for slaveowners, merchant capitalists and other propertied and propertarian, aristo-republican elites for whom democracy and equality were the ultimate nightmares much to be prevented, the US Constitutional set-up encodes Minority Rule for the nation’s most reactionary regions, interests, and voters through: the presidential Electoral College, which overrepresents the nation’s most reactionary regions and voters while reducing presidential contests to a handful of contested states and rendering millions of popular votes superfluous; the granting of two representatives to the nation’s powerful upper legislative chamber to every state regardless of population size; a Supreme Court with vast powers of judicial review, appointed and approved by the undemocratically selected US president and Senate; strictly time-staggered elections that provide citizens painfully brief and narrow windows for democratic “input” through the marking of ballots for major party candidates selected in advance by wealthy and powerful interests; the granting of remarkable autonomy to the nation’s fifty state jurisdictions, leaving citizens stuck in reactionary states subject to politics and policies that do not reflect the views of the national majority. Along the way, corporate and financial interests undermine democratic politics and policy in numerous ways, including their control of jobs and investment and their operation of a commercial corporate media that functions as a potent agent of capitalist-imperialist ideology while spread divisive, individualist, violent, dehumanizing, infantilizing, and fatalistic, power-serving thoughts and feelings.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).