By Delilah Ruth
Conditions of freedom, health, and happiness have been circling the drain in the United States for a number of years, most recently exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the news of the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe vs Wade in the coming months, Americans find the last semblances of our democracy to be entirely in the sewer.
It’s been no secret that for the majority of the years after Roe was decided in 1973, influential groups of mostly religious right-wing zealots have yearned for this moment – a devastating curtain reveal of the inescapable misogyny of American Christian capitalism. This revelation comes as no surprise to longtime abortion advocates, who for just as many decades have attempted to sound the alarm on the increasing chips in the armor of this decision, this precarious determination that women (and others who give birth) might, in fact, have rights and dignity. Roe was always a ticking time bomb, and working class women have had to navigate financial and other limitations in accessing abortion care throughout the entirety of its legalization.
Out of an unelected panel of nine people appointed to their positions for the rest of their natural lives, five of them (at least two of them men that have been credibly accused of sexual violence) get to decide the fate of women’s reproductive self-determination and dignity. The limitations of electoralism have been laid completely to bare.
As one of those advocates and a former abortion care worker, I’ve watched as grassroots organizers have done everything they’ve been told is right to combat the rising power of the so-called “pro-life” movement – street protests, phonebanks, clinic escorting, letter-writing, and of course, voting. The Democratic party has held Roe hostage nearly since its release, many times with outright promises to codify the rights enshrined in the decision, but never delivering on those commitments. The threat that failing to “vote blue” would lead to the eventual downfall of abortion rights has always been looming in speeches, in campaign ads, and most importantly, in fundraising emails. After all, without the threat of imminent suffering brought on by outright Republican cruelty, how would Democrats garner any support at all? And yet, with a Democratic president and Congressional majority, Roe awaits its execution. Out of an unelected panel of nine people appointed to their positions for the rest of their natural lives, five of them (at least two of them men that have been credibly accused of sexual violence) get to decide the fate of women’s reproductive self-determination and dignity. The limitations of electoralism have been laid completely to bare.
The sorrow, fear, and dismay felt by this scorned half of the population at the news that they are soon to have fewer rights than corpses is palpable. This reaction is entirely justified, as the impacts of a reversal of Roe can only be described as catastrophic. The first point to note is that abortion will effectively become illegal in 13 states immediately – Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, soon to be followed by another handful of states which are expected to quickly enact bans.
The licentious danger inherent to these bans is clear to anyone who is familiar with the history of reproductive rights or who has even a passing knowledge of maternal and child health in the United States. Study after study has demonstrated that areas with abortion bans have higher maternal mortality rates, with one University of Colorado study indicating the increase would be in the double-digits before even accounting for unsafe abortion attempts. This same study also indicated that the increase in maternal deaths would disproportionately affect Black women, as they would see a 33% increase in pregnancy-related deaths despite already accounting for a disproportionate amount of maternal mortality. Maternal outcomes are already abysmal in the United States, with the current rate of pregnancy-related death at 23.8 per 100,000. By contrast, socialist Cuba, which provides free abortion countrywide, has a maternal mortality rate of just 12.8 per 100,000. The burden of abortion restrictions are not even limited to birthing parents – they affect infants as well. Abortion restrictions may even cause infant deaths to rise, a statistic of course ignored by those who enact these bans in the name of protecting babies. In all cases, needless suffering becomes the only outcome of this extremely unpopular abuse of power.
To add to what can only be considered this, borrowing Justice Alito’s language in the draft decision, “egregiously wrong” decision, the Supreme Court’s anticipated destruction of rights does not even come with a hint of increased commitment to motherhood, the safety and welfare or women, and certainly not the safety and welfare of children. As a nation, we are still debating whether or not it’s worth protecting children from a now vaccine-preventable novel disease via both those very vaccines or simple usage of face masks. Children die by unaddressed gun violence in schools on a regular basis. Black children are routinely lost to police brutality and violence. Those who are eager to see the demise of abortion access, these ostensibly politically neutral Justices included, are not as eager to see the implementation of universal healthcare, pre-natal and maternity care, childcare, paid maternity leave, increased food security programs, or any other protection and support for those they are forcing into parenthood. Once again the strain of the supposed moral superiority of the ruling class falls on the backs of workers.
Abortion restrictions must be understood through the lens of class and class warfare. One million lives have been sacrificed to COVID-19 over the past two years primarily to secure the continued profit of the capitalist class. Complaints of “no one wants to work anymore” echo amongst the headlines and social media – highlighting widespread staffing shortages that remain more irksome to the capitalist class than the complete collapse of the US’s already pitiful public health infrastructure. Low birth rates have bothered economists for years, no doubt their effect becoming even more alarming to those who subsist themselves on exploited workers with the loss of so many people in the county. The economic motive to restricting abortion is clear, and it benefits the capitalist class to continue to burden working class women with carrying any and every fertilized egg that implants itself into their uteruses. Coupled with recent attacks on LGBTQ rights, homophobic and transphobic attacks on public schools meant to garner support for privatizing education, voter suppression and poverty wages, the intent behind these efforts to restrict reproductive self determination is very transparently motivated by capitalism’s reliance on women’s unpaid labor and the ability to keep workers compliant through a constant struggle for survival.
This reliance is increasingly being revealed as being not just about the unpaid reproductive labor primarily women do in the “private” sphere – the absolute emphasis on the capitalist bargain that is the “nuclear family” – but also about the commodification of children themselves. Engels referred to the “propagation of children” as being “the first division of labor” and “the first class opposition that appears in history”. Whereas for decades, the right wing in the United States has wailed incessantly about the destruction of the nuclear family, a private means of production for the propagation of children, the leaked Supreme Court decision belies a new intention – industrialization of childbearing and adoption. In the decision, Justice Alito refers to a dearth of the “domestic supply of infants”, something also echoed in the arguments made by Justice Amy Coney Barret in the case leading to this reversal, Dobbs vs. Jackson. The moral argument against abortion, that such an action is “murder”, instead becomes a question of supply and demand of infants for wealthy families looking to adopt, and moreso, those looking to profit by engaging in the private adoption industry.
For decades, abortion rights activists and those who conducted abortion-related work have known that the struggle to control reproduction would not end at abortion restrictions, and certainly not at priggish arguments over “state’s rights”. Like in so many things, the people (primarily women) who did and do this work, were told they were overreacting.
For decades, abortion rights activists and those who conducted abortion-related work have known that the struggle to control reproduction would not end at abortion restrictions, and certainly not at priggish arguments over “state’s rights”. Like in so many things, the people (primarily women) who did and do this work, were told they were overreacting. Now, before the decision on the reversal of Roe is final, multiple right wing lawmakers are outwardly considering bans on popular forms of contraceptive, including emergency hormonal contraceptive pills or “Plan B” as well as one of the most widely used and effective long-acting reversible contraceptive methods, intrauterine devices (IUDs). Others are hoping to expand the carceral apparatus by jailing women who seek abortion and healthcare workers who provide them for homicide. No doubt these types of legislative actions will be used to prosecute and condemn women for miscarriages as well, which has already occured in some states, essentially criminalizing women’s bodies for existing.
This is not an exhaustive description of all of the problems, injustices, misogyny and hypocrisy unleashed within this leaked decision. This rollback, if it should occur and it is intensely likely it will, has implications that extend far beyond just any one woman or person’s ability to decide for themselves whether or not they will carry a pregnancy and give birth. So what is the solution for workers in the face of yet another attack on our ability to make choices for ourselves, our health, our lives, and our worth? Many abortion rights advocates have already begun the groundwork of developing funds to assist women in states in which abortion will soon be criminalized. Organizations like Women on Waves/Women on Web have existed for years to provide care to women in countries that have restrictions on abortion, and newer options such as Plan C have popped up to provide mail-order abortion pills as well. This type of response will provide some semblance of relief in the short-term, but is ultimately only a harm-reduction method.
There are lessons that can be learned from global movements for abortion rights – particularly the most recent successful campaigns to decriminalize abortion in Latin America. This fight, like theirs, will take unrelenting commitment. All prior liberal strategies of treating abortion as a shameful necessity should be eradicated, and replaced only with enthusiasm for the multitudes of ways in which women and other birthing people can and should be able to control their fertility.
There are lessons that can be learned from global movements for abortion rights – particularly the most recent successful campaigns to decriminalize abortion in Latin America. This fight, like theirs, will take unrelenting commitment. All prior liberal strategies of treating abortion as a shameful necessity should be eradicated, and replaced only with enthusiasm for the multitudes of ways in which women and other birthing people can and should be able to control their fertility. Activists must speak frankly about abortion rights in all avenues of discussion – at the dinner table, on social media, with family, friends and especially coworkers. Too long have liberals forced abortion rights advocates into a defensive position. This movement must be led offensively, and in conjunction with other movements for democracy – as part of the movement for LGBTQ liberation, liberation from white supremacy, and liberation from the exploitation of wage labor. It is essential to build consciousness among women workers in this moment that their struggle is one that can only be aided by the construction and defense of workers power in all avenues. By building labor power, we build the power to grind these undemocratic institutions to a halt.
Alito’s leaked decision posits that the right to an abortion cannot be explicitly found anywhere within the US Constitution. This is true, as abortion is not explicitly written anywhere in a document that at its inception also denied women the right to vote and allowed the enslavement of Black people. If what Alito and the other Justices who are his allies in this corrupt endeavor want is a Constitution that explicitly enumerates the right to an abortion, it is up to us as workers to build the power necessary to force the creation of such as document – a true workers democracy that respects and enshrines the rights of all people to control their own bodies, fertility, and future.
Categories: U.S. News