Photo: Protesters march against the Texas Legislature’s anti-abortion bills in Austin (Source: Popular Women’s Movement)
By Sandra Harris
Ruling-class attacks on access to abortion have steadily increased over the last decade, including an extreme anti-abortion law recently passed in Texas, along with ramped-up efforts to challenge the constitutionality of the right to abortion in the Supreme Court. In order to mobilize the people and do what is necessary to permanently ensure a woman’s right to abortion, we must understand the ideas and politics behind these attacks, as well as the history of this struggle.
On the matter of a woman’s right to abortion, the ruling class of the US is divided in their approach. There is the right-wing anti-abortion movement intent on rolling back abortion rights, generally represented in politics by the Republican Party. The other camp are those sections of the ruling class, broadly represented by the Democratic Party, who want to maintain abortion access as a legal right in order to secure the buy-in and participation of women in bourgeois society, reducing it to the “right to choose.”
As the State becomes more threatened by economic crisis and as the people’s movements fight for social and economic change, the forces of reaction will seek to consolidate and reinforce their power through restricting people’s rights. This is what we see with the current anti-abortion offensive. The ideology of the anti-abortion movement serves the capitalist ruling class in their efforts to repress the people, and expresses itself in an eclectic mix of pseudoscience and religious fanaticism.
Politicians with conservative majorities in state legislatures regularly pass anti-abortion bills as a way to rile up and consolidate their base. Last month in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that includes a ban on abortion after six weeks, which the bill’s backers have referred to as “fetal heartbeat” legislation.
The term “fetal heartbeat” in this case is a fabrication, referring to an electric signal flutter seen from an embryo on a sonogram as early as six weeks; this is long before an embryo is referred to as a fetus, which occurs during the eleventh week of pregnancy. The “fetal heartbeat” legislation directly challenges the 1973 Supreme Court precedent Roe v. Wade, which established the right to abortion in the US as long as the fetus is not viable outside the womb.
It is a tried-and-true method of conservative politicians to rally the support of religious groups and their adherents by pandering to their most reactionary beliefs. Asserting the ‘right to life’ for any fetus or embryo in the early stages of development is a crude concept that rejects the scientific understanding of how humans develop in the womb.
Obscuring science is a critical component of the anti-abortion movement, akin to the way conspiracy theorists reject science and material reality. They create new terminology such as “dismemberment abortion” or “partial-birth abortion” to make a safe medical procedure sound gruesome and abhorrent.
Texas is the 13th state to pass a six-week ban over the past several years, but up until now most of these laws have been struck down or blocked by the courts. Abbott also signed a “trigger ban,” which will ban abortion in Texas automatically if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Similar “trigger bans” have been passed in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and other states. Politicians like Abbot are counting on two new anti-abortion justices appointed by Trump, forming a likely anti-abortion majority in the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade.
Abortion restrictions, like all laws under capitalist society, disproportionately threaten the working class, specifically working women. The fact is that criminalizing abortion does not stop it from happening. The possibility of unplanned pregnancies and clandestine abortions, or self-induced abortions without appropriate medical assistance, poses a danger to the stability and lives of many women throughout the US. It is increasingly important to mobilize the working class as a force against the attacks on abortion rights to fight for a new society where women’s rights, and all the people’s rights, are guaranteed.
The Degree to Which Women Participate
Restricting working women’s choices about reproduction helps guarantee the ruling class more workers willing to compete for low-paying jobs. By pushing more unwanted pregnancies, they make desperate working-class families more likely to take lower-paying jobs to provide for their children, which keeps wages low and ensures greater profits for the capitalists.
Under socialism, the right to abortion will be guaranteed, as it was following the Great October Socialist Revolution. In 1920, the Soviet Union, the first socialist society, became the first government in the world to establish the right to abortion. The participation of women workers to fight for socialist revolution is absolutely necessary—as Lenin said, “the success of the revolution depends on the degree to which women participate.” Under capitalism, a portion of the bourgeoisie may concede the right to abortion; but this is only in the interest of preserving capitalism, under which the working class, both women and men, is inherently exploited. Only socialism, built on the needs of society as a whole, not on private property, can guarantee the people’s rights.
In the early 20th century, more women entered the workforce and engaged in production (and were exploited by capitalism), which resulted in greater numbers of politicized women. The fight for abortion rights in the 1960s brought concessions from the ruling class during a time of massive protest movements. These movements sparked interest in Communism among young people and fueled combative action against US imperialist involvement in the Vietnam War, for racial justice, and for women’s rights.
Roe v. Wade was delivered as a concession to the growing number of women in the workforce, and because petty-bourgeois and bourgeois women were becoming more involved in progressive movements. As women gained more political standing through their economic participation, the ruling class extended rights to women to attract them to more fully participate in the capitalist system; otherwise they would be more likely to fight against it.
That moment in history offers us lessons that explain why, today, the ruling class favors rolling back certain rights. The imperialist system today is experiencing deeper and more frequent economic crises of overproduction. These crises drive the ruling class toward a deeper, more desperate exploitation of the working class, making eroding abortion rights more attractive. As more reactionary anti-abortion laws are passed, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois women will still have relatively greater access to abortion, so the ruling class will not be inclined to remove these emerging legal and economic barriers. Overcoming those barriers and winning concessions will require more people organizing and fighting for a new, working-class women’s movement that does not rely on our current system.
The Ruling Class Will Not Emancipate Women
In late May, hundreds of people rallied in Austin, Texas against the anti-abortion bills that were signed into law. The political message of the rally was overwhelmingly dominated by non-profits, Democratic Party boosters, and liberal politicians claiming that more voting, more legal wrangling, and more participation in the bourgeois system will defend the right to abortion. Most could only reiterate that “abortion is still legal,” giving little reassurance to those who currently struggle to access abortion regardless of its legality.
While support networks and abortion assistance are helpful, most of these non-profit organizations are simply filling potholes for the ruling class. These non-profits will not mobilize women into the combative action necessary to fight the reactionary State and force concessions along the road to conquering a new society. They still see the apparatuses of the State, whether legislative bodies, the courts, or the electoral process, as the primary arenas in which to struggle for the people’s rights. These groups downplay or even repress more rebellious activity and movements that do not align with the ruling-class politicians, whether conservative or liberal, who both defend and preserve this backwards, imperialist State.
Under the capitalist system, no legislative body of officials, and no court system, has ever or will ever represent the interests and needs of the working class—a new system is required. It is a dead end to believe that one day capitalist politicians will ever overturn the plethora of legal and societal burdens on working women. Women can no longer simply settle for legal wrangling or petty reforms.
The capitalist ruling class will never end the economic exploitation which they depend on and which is at the root of women’s oppression. Women must take up the proletarian struggle alongside men to throw out capitalism and establish a socialist system that makes economic and social decisions based on the needs of working people, not on the needs of profit.
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