Defend Abortion Rights Through Mass Action!
Reactionary US Supreme Court strikes down Roe v Wade
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which established a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy has sparked a wave of mass protests in towns and cities across America. In dozens of states abortion is now effectively prohibited. Dissenting Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor observed that the ruling signified, “a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”
The Supreme Court decision on abortion is one of a series of reactionary rulings which have shrunk the rights of citizens while expanding those of corporations—particularly their control of the electoral process. This has been accompanied by an enormous expansion of commercial surveillance in tandem with the growth of an intrusive domestic “security state.”
The campaign to overturn Roe v Wade has been waged for decades by the Republican Party and assorted Christian reactionaries united in hypocritical lip service to “traditional family values.” Donald Trump’s cynical pledge to “Make America Great Again” tapped into the desperate anxiety of many downwardly mobile working-class voters along with a section of the petty bourgeoisie. A critical element of Trump’s makeover from privileged Manhattan playboy into a successful rightist politician was his sudden conversion to “pro-life” politics. His right-wing populist posture as a defiant bad boy standing up to the liberal ruling elites who are undermining traditional American values, galvanized millions of predominately white workers who, unable to see that their problems derive from the vagaries of capitalist profit maximization, vent their anger on feminists, immigrants, unions, gays, transexuals, blacks and other minorities.
Little has changed since 1990 when we observed:
“Every form of false consciousness, every bigoted notion and obscurantist prejudice which inhibits a rational understanding of society, ultimately serves as a prop for the existing social order. Workers who believe that their increasing difficulty in making ends meet is all part of god’s master plan, and that the local abortion clinic is the work of the devil, are far less dangerous to their bosses—and to the state—than those who understand that their declining standard of living is a product of an irrational economic system which puts profit ahead of human need.”
—1917, No. 7
Anti-Abortion Offensive: a Beachhead for Rightist Reaction
The attack on abortion rights is the cutting edge of a broad reactionary “culture war” aimed at rolling back the small and incremental gains achieved over the past half century by blacks, gays, trans and other oppressed minorities in America. Overturning Roe v Wade is a major victory for the right and has only whetted their appetite for more, as exemplified by Judge Clarence Thomas’ suggestion, in his submission concurring with the majority decision, that this should open the door to “correcting” various other decisions, including the 1965 ruling granting married couples the right to contraceptives (Griswold vs. Connecticut); the 2003 decision recognizing the right for people to engage in private sexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas) and the 2015 legalization of same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges). Thomas opined:
“in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ Ramos v. Louisiana, 590 U. S. ___, ___ (2020) (THOMAS, J., concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 7), we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents….”
A clear majority of Americans support a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, although attitudes vary across regions: the West Coast, Illinois, Colorado, New England and the mid-Atlantic states uphold abortion rights whereas majorities in the South, Midwest and Mountain States are opposed.
This reactionary decision will of course have the greatest impact on poor working-class women, a category disproportionately composed of blacks and Latinas. Being forced to bear unwanted children has a severe and long-lasting negative impact on the lives of women—particularly for those who are marginally employed or living below the poverty line. One of many negative effects will be to make it more difficult for women seeking to escape abusive partners. Some women, particularly teenagers, will inevitably feel forced to pursue dangerous backstreet alternatives. While women with financial resources and social connections will always be able to get safe medical abortions, for many of their less fortunate sisters the ban on abortion will literally be a matter of life or death. The “right to life” moralists, who are more concerned about zygotes than adult women, are essentially indifferent to the real world consequences for unwilling mothers and their offspring.
The overturn of Roe makes clear the reversibility of any gains won under capitalist rule—all the institutions of capitalist democracy in the U.S., from the two-party system to the Supreme Court, are rigged to serve the capitalist ruling class whose core interests are counterposed to those of working people and the poor. The Democratic Party, which purports to stand as a bulwark for women’s rights against social reactionaries of the GOP, did not pass legislation to legalize abortion under the Clinton, Obama and Biden administrations when they controlled both houses of Congress and the White House. This was not an oversight but rather a cynical policy designed to maintain the threat of the GOP overturning Roe v Wade as a means to mobilize their own electoral base: abortion is one of very few issues where the twin parties of the capitalist ruling class have a clear policy difference.
Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
The centrality of the nuclear family as the basic social unit of bourgeois society lies at the root of the special oppression of women, as well as of gays, lesbians, trans people and other non-conforming sexual and gender minorities. Abortion rights were only won through the mass social mobilizations in the 1960s and 70s, and they can only be restored and extended though a renewed popular upsurge.
There will doubtless be widespread resistance to the attempt to close off abortion access across much of the U.S.; it is clear that tens of thousands of people stand ready to actively participate in circumventing whatever legal barriers are erected. Marxists support such initiatives, while posing the issue of abortion rights as part of a larger struggle to end women’s oppression through uprooting capitalism—a social system based on inequality, exploitation and oppression.
The fight to secure the fundamental right of women to make decisions about their own bodies by winning access for all to free abortion on demand is linked to the necessity of establishing universal state-funded healthcare, including coverage of pre-natal and post-natal care and all associated medical expenses. These demands in turn pose the necessity of ensuring free, quality, 24-hour childcare—a measure that will benefit working-class parents while paying social dividends for generations to come.
A rational social order would guarantee all this as well as access to meaningful, well-paid employment, and ensure decent affordable housing for all. But such demands are incompatible with the existing racist, class-divided set up in the U.S. and the rest of the capitalist world, where the interests of a very tiny sliver of ultra-rich parasites takes precedence over any other consideration.
The struggle for women’s liberation is a key strategic component in humanity’s necessary ascent from capitalist barbarism to a future in which human need, not private profit, will determine social and economic priorities. An egalitarian socialist economic order based on rational planning can provide the material preconditions for ending thousands of years of female subordination and all the other myriad forms of social oppression, inequality and exploitation which capitalist society perpetuates.
A key element in beating back the current reactionary offensive is to mobilize the power of the organized workers’ movement. In America today the trade unions are significantly weaker than they were in the 1970s due to their corrupt and cravenly pro-capitalist bureaucratic leadership. But the unions remain the only significant social institution with the objective capacity to spearhead large-scale struggles to advance the interests of working people and the oppressed. Unlocking this power requires fighting to build a new class-struggle leadership in the unions, capable of leading mass struggles to regain abortion rights and defend other gains targeted by the fanatical right. Successfully defending and extending the rights of women, blacks and other oppressed layers will strengthen the workers’ movement and cut across the ethnic, racial and sexual divisions so vital to maintaining the rule of the billionaire rulers. This in turn can lay the groundwork for future revolutionary struggles to bring down the entire edifice of capitalist rule and initiate the reconstruction of American society on the basis of socialist egalitarianism.
Free Abortion on Demand! Defend Abortion Rights!
Women’s Liberation through Socialist Revolution!