Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, has signed House Bill 314—the “Human Life Protection Act”—into law. This is a draconian law that dramatically infringes upon the basic reproductive rights of women. With this law in effect, all abortions, even in cases of incest or rape, are entirely illegal. Any doctor caught carrying out an abortion can receive a life imprisonment—punishment usually reserved for murderers and rapists.
A wave of outrage has swept the country as millions are disgusted by this barbaric attack on women. Many are afraid of the precedent this could establish for reactionary legislators across the country, eager to destroy the gains made by the struggles of the past.
This law and others like it, which curtail democratic rights and divide the working class along so-called “culture war” lines, is opposed by the majority of the ruling class out of fear of the fightback it could unleash. All the major Democratic presidential candidates, dozens of celebrities and talk show hosts, and even a few conservatives like Tomi Lahren and the ultra-reactionary televangelist fossil Pat Robertson came out in opposition to HB 314.
These figures tend to suggest that people express their outrage within the confines of bourgeois politics: call your representatives, vote in the next election, etc. This is ironic because people like Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas—who themselves have been accused of sexual harassment—hold seats on the Supreme Court, the highest institution of bourgeois legality. And while a Democratic Party-controlled federal government wouldn’t be inclined to pass such blatantly anti-woman legislation, they will not challenge the fundamental reasons for women’s oppression or the roots of the revived anti-abortion movement.
Nor are the Democrats in favor of ending the segregation of abortion access, whereby the procedure is performed mainly in special clinics rather than in hospitals. To do so would be to attack the capitalist system and its privately owned healthcare business, and the Democrats are just as devoted to the billionaires and bankers as the Republicans.
So how can we fight back and win?
In Spain for the past two years, on International Working Women’s Day, millions of Spanish workers have gone on strike to protest the oppression of women. Major reactionary institutions like the Catholic Church, the monarchy, and the “post-Francoist” right have held back the democratic rights of women for decades. Frustrated by the impotence and inaction of the reformist leadership of the left, millions took to the streets on March 8 in 2018 and 2019 and brought society to a standstill.
While keeping in mind the many vacillations of the leaders of the current struggle in Spain, this movement should be an inspiration to all class-conscious American workers.
However, we need not look past our own borders to find further inspiration. In West Virginia, Arizona, Oakland, and Los Angeles, teachers’ strikes brought the class struggle to the fore and forced the ruling class to give concessions. While these strikes were not all 100% victorious, they were a tremendous start and reflect the broader trend of rising class consciousness among the youth, in particular. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, of the 262,000 workers who unionized in 2017, 201,000 were below the age of 35.
The issue of abortion rights and access affects all women, but at its base it is a class issue. Democratic rights are important, but if a person cannot afford to exercise that right, then it is being denied in practice. When abortion was mostly illegal, rich women could travel to a state or country where it was legal or arrange a private abortion with their high-priced doctors, while working class women were subject to the “back alley butchers.”
Marxists are energetic supporters and participants in the struggle for women’s emancipation. But we take a class position and patiently explain that socialist revolution is the only way to win genuine equality of life for all. To say that it is “men” in general that oppress women simply isn’t correct. Alabama Governor Ivey is a woman, after all. It is the capitalist system that exploits and oppresses women, it is this system that breeds the chauvinism, alienation, and division that leads to the horrors of sexual violence and abortion laws worthy of the Middle Ages.
The fight in Alabama is part of a nationwide class struggle on this key question. The battle for abortion rights must be taken up by the labor movement, which must lead the broader population in a fight to defend, not only the abstract right, but actual, convenient access to birth control and abortion at publicly owned hospitals at no cost to the patient, linking this to the fight for free universal healthcare.
On virtually every major policy issue, polls show that a majority of Americans are moving to the left. Tens of millions are sympathetic to socialism, and many even say they are in favor of revolutionary communism. This powerful social force can only be effectively mobilized in a mass working-class socialist party. Such a party would be the most powerful tool in the fight for reproductive rights and would chart a path for humanity to chuck misogyny and all forms of oppression into the dustbin of history.