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International Socialism, April 1977


Margaret Renn

Abortion in Demand

Reply to V. Greenwood & J. Young


From International Socialism (1st series), No.97, April 1977, p.11.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE problem with both your letter and the book, is still this. You are at pains to show that it is in the tradition of the pro-abortion reformist MPs to only want limited abortion rights – for women in dire social, physical or mental distress. James White and Leo Abse are keeping in step with that limited view as they now work to tighten the law so that abortion rights are more precisely defined, the loopholes closed, and the number of abortions limited.

However, to hold that limited view of abortion rights in 1967 when abortion is illegal, is comparatively progessive and quite different from holding the same view today when large numbers of women who want abortions can get them through a liberal interpretation of the law. One is a move forward, the other a move backwards.

The problem with the book is that although you explain how MPs like White and Abse find themselves at one time supporting reforms and now in the opposite camp you persist in describing them as reformists, albeit conservative ones, and their proposals as reforms. Therefore you appear to compromise. To every single one to the women involved in the campaign White was an arch reactionary. He was seen as the spokesman for the right wing, the ruling class, for everything that is anti-woman. And that at a time when the ruling class is trying to grab back every inch of reform.

All sorts of reforms were won – the reason why a ‘perfunctory chat with any comprehensive school teacher, or a superficial glance through the pages of Gay News’ would deny the extent of the victory is precisely because those reforms, not even being sufficient when they were introduced, are now being eaten away by an increasingly unstable capitalism in crisis.

It is that part of the analysis that you shy away from. In the introduction to the book you say, ‘despite the vigour of the abortion debate, there is surprisingly little analysis of the politics which underlie it. What analysis exists remains shallow and cursory. On the left it is often suggested, for example, that the proposed 1975 Amendment to the Abortion Act was somehow a direct reflection of ‘ruling-class interests’. You then dismiss this by saying what nonsense it would be for the ruling class to support a measure with the effect of increasing the population size at a time of major recession, of high unemployment and cuts in social services.

But there is more to ruling-class interests than fitting the size of the population to the demands of the labour market. The question you thus avoid is what did happen between 1967 and 1977 to dash women’s hopes of equality through the law. Was it just that the laws were inadequate? Or was it because any fight for women’s equality, and even the very idea of women’s independence, are now not in line with ruling-class interests.

They grab back the reforms precisely because they have to enforce their control over the working class in more ways than one in a time of crisis. For the women involved in the campaign to stop the change in the law, including myself, the book contains a lot of very interesting information, which, gathered together, is very useful. But it is inadequate as a political analysis, an attempt to help find the way forward.

There is little enough about the important debate on the way forward for NAC. You say ‘single issue campaigns are useful only if linked to organisations which generalise the issue in the context of wider social demands.’ I couldn’t agree more. That doesn’t mean we don’t put all our energies into the single issue campaign, we do. But for women in the SWP that means relating this campaign to the struggle for much wider control over our lives, through socialism. This is our ‘context of wider social demands’. You dismiss this as using the campaign ‘chiefly as an easy recruiter to socialism’, but we actually thihk that socialist politics matter. The fight for women’s rights and women’s liberation is part and parcel of the fight for socialism.

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