The Attack on Women’s Rights

So-called “pro-life” opponents of a woman’s right to choose have led a fervent battle against the basic liberties of women across the globe this past year. In the United States, the Republicans and Democrats brought out their old bag of tricks and dug up various social issues calculated to rally potential voters behind their respective parties.

Much of Obama’s presidential campaign revolved around pointing at Mitt Romney’s positions regarding the rights of women—particularly the right to an abortion. The boogeyman tactic certainly had the intended effect. As it was felt that there was much at stake in the event of a Romney victory, millions went to the polls to cast their votes against Romney. However, a vote for the Democrats is not a vote for women’s rights. After all, it was Obama himself that made the executive order affirming that the Hyde Amendment—which restricts federal funds from being used to provide abortions—applied to Obamacare. This was put forward as a “compromise” to ensure its passage in the House of Representatives. Not a compromise to the Republicans, but a compromise to the anti-abortion Democrats!

Ironically, much of the Republican Party prior to the Reagan years tended to lean more pro-choice on the basis of a “libertarian” approach to civil liberties. The Republican Party didn’t have the Christian right as a solid voter base until beginning in the 80s when the party made a conscious shift in that direction. Mitt Romney is a particularly interesting example; despite his position in the 2012 campaign, he used to be considered a staunch defender of the right to choose.

A video of a debate between Romney and Ted Kennedy during the 1994 senate race made its rounds on the internet; the video is illustrative of this changed dynamic in recent years. In opposition to “pro-life” Democrat Ted Kennedy, Romney defends abortion rights perhaps more boldly than any contemporary Democrat would. Although the Republicans and Democrats have gone through transformations regarding their positions on various social issues—reflecting changes in their respective voter bases—the parties still fundamentally represent big business and the defense of the capitalist system.

One example of the recent attacks on abortion rights is HB 5711, passed by the House of Representatives in Michigan on June 13, 2012.  According to The New York Times, the bill consisted of making abortion procedures financially inaccessible by forcing clinics that provide six or more abortions a month to pay for unnecessary space and costs, and forcing clinics to become licensed surgical centers even if they only provide medication-induced abortions—a process that does not even require surgery!

The bill also withholds the most up-to-date protocols and procedures for medications that induce abortion, putting patients at risk for dangerous medicinal side-effects. Just before the Michigan State House cleared HB 5711, they pulled a section of the bill that would have criminalized all abortions occurring 20 weeks after fertilization. This would have included women who were victims of rape, incest, or who suffer from debilitating physical conditions. Before passing the legislation, it seems the House of Representatives realized that such an outrageous piece of legislation would certainly incite a fiery backlash.

The capitalist class and their political parties are no strangers to the old “divide and conquer” tactic. In recent years, conservative politicians have used religious rhetoric to denigrate a woman’s right to choose because they know this will strike a chord with a layer of conservative Christian voters. In the vice-presidential debate on October 11, Paul Ryan expressed concern that “Obamacare” would infringe on the rights of Catholics by seeking to provide contraceptives. This is illustrative of how out of touch the main political representatives of the capitalist system are. The Republican Party’s stance on abortion is clearly backward; but is Obama really the “fighter for women’s rights” that his campaign made him out to be?  Let’s not forget that Obama did not lift a finger against HB 5711, nor did he step into the debate in July, when Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant claimed he wanted to make Mississippi “abortion-free” by closing the only clinic in the entire state.

The war against women’s rights is not only being waged in the United States. Abortion is currently illegal in Ireland except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. Pregnant women in Ireland who have decided to have abortions must travel outside of the country to get the procedure done. The Abortion Act of 1967, which legalized abortions in the United Kingdom, excluded Northern Ireland. On October 11, The New York Times published an article stating that planning has begun to establish the first abortion clinic on the island, to be located in Belfast. The project is being led by Marie Stropes International, a nonprofit group, and, according to their website, “the U.K.’s leading provider of sexual and reproductive healthcare services.” News of the proposed clinic in Northern Ireland has caused an uproar of protests and backlash from Ireland’s “pro-life” activist groups.

One of the groups that has been most vocal is Precious Life, an organization that claims to have “rejuvenated the pro-life movement.” The founder of the organization, Bernadette Smyth, states on the organization’s website that she is a “true feminist,” and that abortions are merely a “get out clause for men.”

The most absurd aspect of the “pro-life” movement is their refusal to accept the fact that shutting down abortion clinics and passing anti-abortion legislation will not stop abortions. The only thing legislation of this sort will do is put women’s safety and well-being in jeopardy by forcing them to seek abortion procedures in illegal conditions, without any safety regulations.

It should be pointed out that the existence of small abortion clinics is the result of a concession to opponents of abortion rights. It allows these establishments to be regularly picketed by “pro-lifers,” harassing and intimidating the staff and patients. In order to ensure the safest abortions possible, they should be conducted in hospitals with all of the extra support and resources these institutions can provide.

In the United States, one out of every three women have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old; that’s approximately 1.37 million abortions per year. Certainly these numbers can convince anyone that resources for abortion procedures and the right to choose are pivotal aspects of the well-being of women across the country.

In 1920—the same year women’s suffrage was won through the 19th amendment here in the U.S.—the then-healthy workers’ state of the Soviet Union was the first in the world to legalize abortion with their decree on women’s health care, and women had already won the vote in 1917. The Russian Revolution had transformed a country that was once dominated by tsarism and the Russian Orthodox Church, into the first country in the world to provide abortion upon request.

Marxists are unconditionally and without exception for a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have a child; we are not “pro-abortion,” as the “pro-life” movement likes to characterize all defenders of abortion rights. The key to the question of abortion lies in addressing what gives rise to the conditions that lead potential parents to opt for abortion in the first place. We fight for a society that can provide stability and conditions worthy of raising the next generation in—a world that capitalism simply cannot provide.

Until we can eliminate the very real basis of the fear and insecurity associated with being a parent under this system, we cannot expect to see a decrease in the number of abortions. With the capitalist system in terminal decline, it is likely we will only see a rise in abortions. In order to eliminate the need for abortions, the conditions that engender that need must be eliminated. Part of eliminating those conditions begins with guaranteeing legal and safe abortions upon demand, as part of a socialized, universal health care system.

But what is required first and foremost in this fight is a mass political party of the working class, based on the immense resources of the labor movement, and armed with a socialist program. We need a party that will stand firm in the face of attacks on the reforms that were won in the past, and which can mobilize the workers to fight for more: a shorter workweek, so parents have time to care for their children; universal health care for all to eliminate the black cloud of costs associated with a pregnancy and parenthood and to utilize the most up-to-date medical technology to ensure the safest birthing or abortion procedures; social services to transition away from the added stress of unpaid labor at home; a general increase in the standard of living through affordable housing, higher wages, vacation time, and much more.

Before being stifled by the Stalinist bureaucracy as a result of isolation and backwardness, the Russian Revolution succeeded in showing us a glimpse of what a socialist future would mean. It left an indelible mark on the 20th century that can never be erased. Here in the United States, the richest country on Earth with the most advanced technology on Earth, the success of socialism would mark the beginning of the speedy end of capitalism internationally. Then we would be able to seriously speak of building a world truly worthy for future generations

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