by Worker’s Voice Women’s Commission
Despite the victory of Roe v. Wade in 1973, women’s full control of their bodies and reproductive lives, the crux of the abortion movement of the 1970s, was never completely realized. The implementation of the ruling has been left to the state by state case which have codified and many times limited women’s access to abortion.
Row v. Wade has been a federal law since 1973 and has not been officially repealed. However, there has been the longstanding illusions that women have had the right to choose since it was signed in. Choice has not been a reality for most women, this de jure does not guarantee democracy since there has always been a lack of access for working class women.
While it is calculated that one in three women will have an abortion in their life, the restriction on this fundamental right continues to grow: from particular hospital requirements, gestational limits and restrictions on public funding to the establishment of a mandatory waiting period (26 states), requirement of mandated psychological counseling (17 states) or parental consent for minors (it is the case now in 46 states) and above all refusal of procedure (in 46 states an individual health care provider can refuse to perform an abortion). Up to today, 87% counties, where 35% of women live, lack an abortion provider!
New Attacks on Abortion
In the last two years, and in the midst of this economic crisis, the attacks on women’s reproductive rights have skyrocketed: in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute 92, restrictions were passed, and in 2012, 19 states passed 43 additional restrictions.
And, unfortunately, 2013 is following the same path. In the last months, there have been extreme attacks (that are already in effect) in Arizona, Kansas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Wisconsin. The attacks include: restrictions on where and when to take “abortion pills,” mandatory ultrasound before receiving an abortion(which may be a form of rape as rape is yet to be properly defined), information of the fetus’ father, ban on abortion at 20 weeks, mandatory waiting period, and a ban on abortion providers from lecturing on sex education programs in schools.
In early July, Texas passed House Bill 2, which requires that abortion only be legally performed in surgical centers, including the abortion-inducing pill that women can safely take at home and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, including cases of rape and incest. In Texas, only 5 out of the 42 abortion clinics meet the requirements of ambulatory surgical center standards, putting women who live in the outskirts of these hospitals out of reach from the necessary services.
North Carolina’s state Senate passed a provision without any public awareness or hearing. Similar to the restrictions passed in Texas, these restrictions are aimed at closing clinics that provide abortions, among other health care services, to poor women. The sneak attack on abortion continues in North Carolina, as the House of Representatives has attached a new set of anti-choice restrictions with a motorcycle safety law.
Two faces of the same coin: Unfit to Procreate?
In California, the Center For Investigative Reporting(CIR) said in July that between 2006 and 2010, the California Institution for Women in Corona and Valley State Prison for women in Chowchilla coerced female inmates into getting tubal ligation surgeries. It is believed that number may exceed the original reported 148 women illegally sterilized.
Dr. James Heinrich defended the operations and his compensation, saying that “Over a 10-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children- as they procreated more.” But the women coming forward say they were coerced.
Selective coerce sterilization in America can be traced back to the 1930s. When the program started, it was usually done on men, women, and children with mental illnesses and disabilities and continued to ultimately being an attack on the poor, working class women and women of color who are deemed “unfit to procreate.” The United States has not only targeted poor women of color in the US, they have extended eugenic practices of selective coercive sterilization on women, men, and children in poor countries around the world.
Women’s situation under capitalism
At first glance, these two recent events seem to contradict each other, and restrictions on abortion and forced sterilization are in fact two faces of the same coin. There is no contradiction; women are undermined in their abilities to make decisions and to have absolute control of their bodies.
Yet, despite all the gains made by the anti-abortion crusade, most women continue to support Roe v. Wade. As revolutionaries, we are at the forefront of the struggle for abortion rights as an essential right for all women, and an element necessary for their liberation.
First, these attacks are not felt equally by all women. The truth is that bourgeois women have never had attacks on their reproductive lives like poor working-class women have. 42% of women seeking an abortion are under the poverty line and 57% pay for it out of their own pocket, either because their health plan does not cover it, or because they want to keep it secret from their partners. And the abortion procedure is not cheap: in 2009, the average cost was $470 for a first-trimester abortion and $1,629 for a second-trimester abortion; this is assuming it all goes well, without complications or medical problems. But this actual economic restriction does not affect the women who belong to the 1%. They for sure will never be sterilised nor will they ever have a problem with affordability and access to doctors that perform abortions.
Second, we also understand that the restrictions on abortion are not the only or are an isolated problem, they are just the tip of the iceberg of women’s oppression under capitalism. Women’s oppression is rooted in the rise of a class society, as all other oppressions are. However, for working class women, their objectification came through the seizure of their bodies to reproduce the working class, the army of labor that will in turn also become simultaneously oppressed and uniformly exploited. This is why we, socialists, do not separate the liberation of women from the liberation of the working class. We, women and men, must fight for their liberation as we understand it as the larger capitalist scheme.
Concretely, this means that when fighting for the full right to abortion we know there is a fork on the road: as working class women, being the most discriminated, will also have to continue the fight to their complete liberation from the total burden capitalism puts over them: the double shift, wage inequality, workplace harassment and discrimination, sexist ideology, etc. And they will have to do so alongside their working class brothers; many of them are also fighting other forms of oppressions, as they all share the same class interest: that of the dismantling of the capitalist system.
Free Access To Abortion on Demand and Socialized Healthcare
Because we fight for abortion rights from a working class point of view, it is important to defend not only the “right to choose” for women, reinforcing their independence as political subjects, but also the concrete implementations of these rights. As we have shown, it is in the real access to abortion that the discrimination is still active, and growing. We should demand free access to abortion on demand, with no mandatory and dissuasive counseling, with no requirement of parental consent, with no mandatory waiting period, etc. Also, we should demand that all hospitals should be by law forced to perform abortions if women desire so. But the key issue is the affordability of abortion. In the overall, we should defend full reproductive freedom.
But the fight for full and free abortion is also inseparable with the struggle to win free, quality universal health care. In fact, since its origins, abortion rights in the US have been tied to health care issues. Four years after Roe Vs Wade, Republican Congressman Henry Hyde proposed an amendment to prohibit federal funding to go to abortion (in particular through Medicaid). The amendment was passed by a Democrat-controlled Congress and signed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter. And it was not repealed by the Obamacare Act. Without a free quality health care system that puts reproductive rights at the center, there will be no real right of abortion in the US. But in the road to win universal health care stand several multinational corporations (medical insurers, private healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies) and their allies in Congress. The structural limitations of the Obamacare Act already have showed so.
Women Cannot Trust The Bipartisan System to Advance Their Rights
One third of women in the United States will have an abortion before the age of forty. Why is it then that we do not hear about a big fight going on for abortion? The movement has been taken off the streets and behind official doors, where people are under the illusion that Democrats are for abortion and women’s rights. While organization such as NARAL Pro-Choice America are now fighting the recent attacks on the streets, they too have succumbed and lead the support for such candidates.
There have been just as many drawbacks on abortion and women’s rights laws under Democratic presidency and with Democratic majority in Congress as Republicans. In Clinton’s 1992 campaign run, he promised to pass a Freedom of Choice Act but it never made it to Congress once he was president. Congress under Clinton’s presidency signed the Hyde Amendment, a federal law banning Medicaid for abortion and many states passed the “partial birth abortion” ban. Yet support for Clinton continued. Today in North Carolina, hopes on Governor Pat McCrory(R) are shattered as he signed the anti-abortion bill into law. During his 2012 campaign, McCrory promised to not pass any restriction abortions. Today, under the first black Democratic president, we are seeing the attacks on working class women and poor women of color continue with full force.
The much needed shatter of illusions on representatives is starting to happen. Across the country, women have come out to protest the new attacks on abortion, but the working class women are not stoping there, they are also taking part in protesting the other attacks on working class people. In North Carolina, ongoing demonstrations against the GOP agenda, the attacks on teachers and education, the voter ID legislation, etc. are happening every Monday. On the 11th week of protest, 100 people, mostly women were arrested after the House sneaked in the new attack on abortion. After three months of protest and demonstrations, there has been over 900 arrests, yet this has not stopped the thousands of women and men from flooding the streets. We support the thousands of people coming out to the streets in protest to contest all these attacks on women and working class people.
Women need to organize independently of capitalist parties that inherently produce and uphold exploitation and oppressions. And they need to organize along class lines, leading their campaign for equal rights whenever possible through their class organizations, such as unions. Women of today must be part of a movement much larger than the waves seen in the past, and this larger movement is the independent working class movement for liberation of all exploited and oppressed people.
Worker’s Voice calls for women and men to organize against the attacks on abortion, and likewise, the attacks on the working class. Furthermore, we place the right and access to abortion as being essential elemental rights of the working class that both women and men must take on to liberate women from this oppression and exploitation. So long as women are bound to reproduce the class that is oppressed and exploited, there will be no liberation of women and the working class as a whole. This is why we call on all for the permanent and undisturbed fight for women to re-appropriate their bodies and have all control of decisions over their reproductive lives.
Annex: Why Do Socialists Defend the Right to Abortion?
The criminalization of abortion is an attack on a fundamental right of women: the right to decide on our bodies and on the course of our life. And this right belongs to women, not to their husbands, their families, the Church or the State.
The restrictions on abortion which are still in place in the US are therefore intolerable restrictions on women’s social rights. In this sense, they are an expression of the efforts of class society to undermine women, based on the idea that women are not able to decide by themselves, and this diminishes their confidence and freedom.
The right wing arguments against abortion deceitfully frame the issue as an issue for “life”. The so-called “Pro-Life” sector argues that a fetus should have the same status of a human being, and that abortion is a criminal act, a murder. What they are in fact implying is that a fetus, which does not have a consciousness of its own, nor any agency (a possible human being), has more rights than a women (an actual human being). They use the this argument to negate the right of women to choose to either to keep the baby or have an abortion. But the fetus is part of the woman’s body, it could not live without it, so there is not a separate life and yet it could negate the one of the woman. In fact, what bigots are doing is not defending life, but limiting human freedom, particularly women’s freedom, which is an essential part of life. And they also put women’s material life at risk: as for poor women, abortion can save them from increased poverty, and in case of medical complication, it can save them from death; and for women who have been victims of rape or incest, it can save them from an unbearable torturing life.
Sexist ideologies are spread through different institutions (like the Catholic Church, the Evangelists, the Republican Party, etc.), stating false claims regarding the superiority of men over women, the “natural” obligation for women to procreate, the “natural” impulse of women for domestic life, etc. All of them are lies- nature nor God have chosen a different “destiny” for women, and all that the sexist ideology does is to undermine women, making society believe they are “inferior” so they can be more exploited and politically controlled. Sexist ideology benefits only the ruling class, the 1%, while hurting our class. This is why as socialists we must explain how they are founded on deceitful arguments, where they come from, and what they achieve politically.