Under capitalism all laws are used to oppress workers. The abortion laws are used to oppress working class women. However, for the most part, the movements which have been built around the legalization of the abortion laws are wrong-headed. We must always ask where such a movement leads, what attitudes does it encourage. For example, the movement to legalize marijuana is not just a movement to revise a series of laws that are selectively and oppressively enforced, but it leads to the encouragement of taking pot as a social benefit. This is inevitable; similarly a movement to legalize abortions leads to encouraging abortions as a social benefit. The question is not whether abortion should be made legal or not, but where the movement leads. Recent months have demonstrated that the bosses are only too ready to legalize abortions. So now the movement focuses on free abortions – a demand communists must characterize not as a reform, but as a thoroughly reactionary demand. Why is this?
If the police were to march into a working class community to take away the pregnant women to a hospital and force them to undergo an abortion, everyone would be up in arms over this outrage. Yet when the ruling class sets things up economically to have the same effect, many so-called leftists even encourage this outrage. Marxists have always recognized that the economics of capitalism is the major force oppressing the working class; the police and military power is only secondary. The economics of capitalism right now is forcing millions of working class families to undergo abortions to exterminate their future offspring. Far from a step toward the liberation of women, this is another horrible oppressive chain around our necks. How does this work? Let’s spell it out so there is no doubt.
(1) After hospital and medical costs beyond what’s covered by insurance, there are many things a working class family needs almost immediately: diapers, a crib, an infant seat, a stroller or carriage, clothes, etc. Generally few families get away with as little as $200 immediate expenses.
(2) But this is just the start; in the first year, the child will cost at least $350 in increased food bills, $200 for clothes, perhaps a bigger apartment or house will be needed. Rare is the working class family that can get away with less than $1,000. But the first year is the cheapest.
3) If the mother-to-be has a job, there will be some loss of income, not to speak of child care costs. This can run into tens of thousands of dollars before the kid is six.
Add it up for working class families, especially those on welfare, having another child under capitalism can be a financial catastrophe. When the ruling class makes abortion easy and cheap, relative to childbirth, what do we have – forced abortion. Free abortion is nothing less than the planned extermination of much of our future class. Under these conditions abortion is no more voluntary than working in an unsafe auto plant is voluntary.
Instead of fighting for conditions that make it easier for working class families to have kids, the abortionists play into the hands of the ruling class that wants to limit our offspring at this point in history.
Some reforms that would really liberate women and make family life easier are:
(1) 30 for 40: more money, more time for families to spend together, less outlay for child care
(2) Equal pay for women workers, an end to discrimination in hiring.
(3) Free child care for all working mothers including infant care.
(4) Fully paid maternity benefits in all health plans and for all welfare recipients that would also include a cash stipend to cover non-hospital expenses of having a baby.
(5) Multiply the income tax deduction for each child to closely reflect the actual cost of raising a child.
(6) Fully paid maternity leave for all mothers that would include a long enough period after birth so that those women who choose to breast feed their babies could do so.
(7) All these benefits be available to single mothers as well with an educational campaign to eliminate the “stigma.”
(8) Multiply welfare benefits so that they closely reflect the actual cost of rearing a family in the 1970’s.
If we won these reforms (most likely the overthrow of the capitalist system would be necessary to win them fully and finally), then free abortions would no longer be forced abortions.
The fact that free abortion has been represented as the primary demand to end the oppression of women shows how divorced the “women’s movement” is from the daily reality of most working class women’s lives (who are, of course, the vast majority of women). If we are talking about a “women’s right to choose” then the above demands are much more relevant to making the choice “freer”.
The abortion movement and the Trotskyites who lead it, by representing abortion as the first step in liberating women, end up blaming a) a woman’s biological functions and b) children as the things that oppress women rather than rotten social conditions, male chauvinism and bad personal, and family relations that are caused by the capitalist system. It’s another blame-the-victim outlook. Babies don’t oppress women nor does the fact that they must bear them; the society that makes what should be a happy and welcome event a burden is the enemy.
“But this position is the same as the Catholic Church”, the abortionists tell us as if making a telling point. As a rhetorical trick to avoid serious discussion, this canard may be useful, but it only reveals abysmal ignorance of the actual state of affairs. Let’s examine the question of the Catholic Church for there are some lessons to be learned here.
In Western Europe during the feudal era, the Church played the role of a modern state apparatus. It was the Church that enforced the feudal laws, oppressed the peasants, and settled the squabbles among the nobility. The Church developed a position on abortion that corresponded to the needs of feudalism. Since each child of a serf owed so much labor to the lord, the more children a serf had, the more labor due the lord. Thus the Church outlawed abortion. During the capitalist revolutions and the Reformation, this tenet of Catholicism was never questioned. The reason was that in the early period of capitalism, the capitalists had great difficulty in enticing the peasants off the land to work in their lovely urban sweatshops, thus there appeared often enough severe labor shortages. (See Marx, Capital, “Primitive Accumulation of Capital”). Thus the capitalists passed laws codifying the old canon laws, outlawing abortion.
Yet today a different situation obtains; modern decadent capitalism is faced with an ever increasing army of unemployed. Even in a “boom” year like 1973 there are officially six percent unemployed (actually more like 20-15 percent who would work if jobs could be found). Moreover, this situation gets worse with, every turn of the capitalist cycle. Few modern capitalist societies have labor shortages any more. Rather the question the ruling class faces is what to do with the millions on welfare and unemployed to limit, at least, their offspring.
Of course the bosses need a reserve army of labour to hold down wages and working-class MILITANCY but only to the point where it begins causing them too much trouble (ghetto rebellions) or costing too much (for housing, unemployment insurance, welfare payments, etc.) The main thing for the capitalist class is to control the number of people their economy keeps employed.
Thus, the pill and a variety of birth control methods were “discovered” in the sixties. What a fine “coincidence” for the capitalists. And the ruling class press began a carefully orchestrated cry to legalize abortions, starting with the “Thalidomide Scandals” around 1960. In the U.S. after the Harlem Rebellion showed the ruling class they better move quickly on this question, Rockefeller signed a legalized abortions bill for New York State. In the wake of Watts and the Bay Area Student Rebellions, Ronald Reagan signed a similar bill for California. Other states followed suit. (Washington State even provides free abortions to welfare recipients – “coincidentally,” Washington has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.)
As for the Catholic Church, the hierarchy in Rome continues to keep one foot in the feudal era, but big-city Cardinals in a number of capitalist countries have broken in practice with Rome on this question. The once-powerful Catholic anti-abortion propaganda machine in the U.S. has in the last few years let out barely a whimper as the bosses move to institute a policy of legal and free abortions nationwide. In Holland the Catholic hierarchy has come out openly for abortions. Probably the next Pope will get a “revelation” on this subject bringing Church policy officially in line with the needs and desires of the capitalist ruling classes.
The most far-seeing and class-conscious elements in the ruling class are the ones pushing abortion and population control today. When the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the Canadian International Development Agency, the U.S. Government and Supreme Court start pushing the same thing as a so-called “progressive movement”, those who support the demand had better start asking some questions. After all these are the same forces who slaughtered millions of Vietnamese “for their own good.” These men are far more dangerous to the working class than the so-called “back-street butchers.”
The Canadian ruling class has gone a long way toward liberalizing the abortion laws. Pushed by such “progressive” forces as the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and the Montreal Gazette, they will go even farther.
A woman’s control of her own body is the essence of the abortion movement, it is often claimed. The question of control of one’s body is not a sex question, but a class question. Capitalist men and women control their own bodies; working men and women sell their bodies to the capitalists for a specified period of time. The ability to obtain an abortion has nothing to do with this. This is elementary Marxism.
This “control” that, in some areas, has now been bestowed on women is really a tragedy for many working class families, and a great tragedy for the working class as a whole to be deprived of so many successors to the revolutionary cause.
Free abortions is one of the main tenets of Zero Population Growth. Marx long ago refuted Malthus, the godfather of ZPG, but the capitalists continue to spew this racist filth. Much more must be done to bury this reactionary philosophy. Now more than ever the ruling class claims there are too many people. We say there are too many capitalists but by no means enough workers. Even after the Revolution, our class should continue to grow; each succeeding generation should be larger and more vigorous, ready and able to change what it does not like about the old world. Population stagnation, like in Hungary where abortions today outnumber live births 1.3 to 1, will lead to decadence and capitalist restoration.
Our class has a great future; each young worker will add something precious toward building that future. There will never be enough workers.