Workers Won’t Go Back: Build a Movement to Defend and Expand Abortion Rights!

On May 2nd, a draft opinion from the Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson was leaked to the public, suggesting that the ruling in this case will overturn the precedent set by Roe v. Wade. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will result in millions of women in the United States losing access to abortion. At the moment, 13 states have “trigger laws” which would automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and many more states would likely use it as an opportunity to pass similar bans.

This latest attack comes on the backs of a host of oppressive laws aimed at women and the LGBTQ+ community pushed by the Republican Party in state legislatures across the country. While condemning it in words, the Democratic Party–who champion themselves as the pro-choice party–consistently refused to mobilize any mass protests or movements that could have offered a real opposition to this assault. This comes after Biden failed to deliver on his promise to make Roe v. Wade the “law of the land,” despite the Democratic Party currently controlling the legislative and executive branches. Biden himself supported a constitutional amendment in 1981 that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade. Nancy Pelosi, one of the most prominent Democrats and the Speaker of the House, said as recently as 2017 that “of course” people could be anti-abortion and a Democrat. Even earlier in 2009, when the Democratic Party had a supermajority in Congress and Barack Obama in the White House, they still failed to make access to abortion a legal right, despite Obama’s campaign promises. The Democratic Party cannot be counted on to defend any of our civil rights, least of all access to abortion, which is already effectively banned for millions of women in the U.S. Only an independent working class party, accountable to and controlled by workers can lead the charge against these attacks on our rights. 

This attack has rightfully shaken many people’s faith in the Supreme Court. Almost 60% of people in the U.S believe that abortion should be legal, and the idea that 5 unelected judges can make a decision which flies in the face of public opinion and harms hundred of millions of Americans is hard to fathom. But the Supreme Court has always been an undemocratic and conservative institution, whose role is to help ensure that popular control over the government is not possible. Along with other undemocratic institutions like the Senate and the Electoral College, the Supreme Court helps ensure that a tiny minority of capitalists and their politicians are able to get their way over the will of the vast majority of working class people in this country. No matter how many justices are appointed to it, or what politics those appointees claim to have, the Supreme Court cannot be reformed into a body that will do more good than harm for working people. We can’t have any faith in the court system to protect abortion rights—the working class must act independently to defend and expand reproductive rights, and to replace the undemocratic Supreme Court with a democratically elected judiciary which is actually accountable to working people. 

While all women will be hurt by a return to pre-Roe days, working-class women will be hit the hardest. Working-class women are already largely prevented from accessing abortion due to the cost of the procedure, the amount of time necessary to schedule and attend medically unnecessary but legally mandated appointments before their abortion, and the inability to travel to the nearest abortion clinic. Women in many states—especially in rural areas—are hundreds of miles away from the nearest abortion clinic. 27 states currently require women seeking an abortion to attend a mandatory counsling session 24 hours before their abortion takes place, meaning that women who have to travel long distances to get an abortion are forced to stay overnight wherever the abortion clinic is located, a cost and time commitment that prevents many working class women today from receiving an abortion.

Under capitalism, working women are expected to work a double shift—one at the workplace, and another at home to maintain their families. In the workplace, the capitalist class exploits women’s labor by paying women workers less than their male counterparts for the same work, and by systematically undervaluing women-dominated industries such as teaching, childcare, and nursing. 

At home, women are often expected to pick up the majority of the domestic work such as cooking, cleaning, and giving birth to the next generation of workers. Rather than being done by society as a whole, under capitalism, domestic labor is made into the responsibility of individual women within individual families, limiting the time that working women have to participate in politics, actions at their workplaces, or even just doing things they enjoy. The bosses and super rich rely on the labor of working women to ensure that they have access to cheap and dependable labor, and it is this reliance on the unpaid domestic labor of women which motivates sections of the capitalist class to push for restrictions on the rights of women, especially on their right to control when or if they have children. 

Laws that ban abortion are tools that the capitalist class uses to trap women into unwanted pregnancies, keep women in poverty, and force women to produce the next generation of workers. It is not surprising that this latest round of attacks against a woman’s right to choose is coming at a time when the capitalist class is becoming increasingly worried about a shortage of workers in the U.S and about falling birth rates. For the capitalists, our labor is just another commodity to be bought and sold, so increasing the number of workers means that the capitalist class is more able to pit workers against one another in order to drive wages down across the board, incentivizing the capitalist class to pass laws which restrict abortion and family planning in order to increase their profits. The right to abortion and other forms of reproductive healthcare have always been pushed from from below, by working class people who know that the right to an abortion and other forms of reproductive healthcare gives women real autonomy over their lives and bodies, and places them on a more equal footing with men, both politically and economically. It’s an indispensable part of ending the oppression of women. 

Access to abortion under capitalism is not just an issue for women, but for the entire working class. Many LGBTQ+ workers who are not women rely on and utilize other reproductive health services, including abortion. As well, the ability of female workers to plan their families helps the entire working class, including working class men. It is in the interest of all workers to come out and struggle against these restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and to fight against women’s oppression in general. When women are paid less for the same work as male coworkers, those lower wages are used to drive down the wages of all workers so that the corporations can make even more profits. The vast majority of working class parents (mothers, fathers, and other parents) are struggling to house, feed, raise, and educate their kids, a burden which only increases when people don’t have the rights or resources to plan their families. The working class as a whole must unify and stand up to these attacks on women and workers at large.

Under capitalism, reforms are granted out of the hope that they will calm workers who are demanding even more. Roe v. Wade wasn’t handed to workers out of the kindness of the Supreme Court. It was a concession given during the conservative Nixon regime, at a time when the combined pressure of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and others put the capitalists on the defensive. Now, we need a similar movement. It’s not enough to just defend Roe v. Wade. Even if Roe v. Wade isn’t overturned, the current right-wing attack on women, LGBTQ+ people, and workers in general will continue. Capitalists are constantly trying to claw back concessions they’ve granted, and it will only be a matter of time before our other rights are once again under attack. We must unite the movement for women’s rights with the environmental, anti-racist, immigrant, LGBTQ+, and labor movements to win affordable and easily accessible healthcare, including reproductive healthcare and abortion. The time to build a fightback against all of these attacks against women and reproductive rights is not after Roe v. Wade is overturned, but right now! The ISG calls for: 

A real fightback to defend and expand abortion rights:

Build a movement independent of the Democratic Party to fight to defend Roe v. Wade, and expand access to abortion, so that abortion is not only a legal right, but a real right for women everywhere. This movement must draw in sections of the labor movement, and utilize union power to win its demands. 

Expanded access to abortion and other forms of healthcare:

Create good union jobs building and staffing new reproductive health clinics all around the country. Ensure that those who need the clinics are able to reach them by greatly expanding public transportation, especially to rural or isolated areas. Replace the broken for-profit health care system with free and universal health care  that protects women’s and LGBTQ+ peoples’ access to non-discriminatory healthcare.

Build a workers’ party

Build a new party based in the working class that will actually fight for the interests of the working class. This party could help organize the movement to defend and expand abortion rights, as well as fight for other reforms that the working class needs like universal healthcare, universal childcare, fully funded and staffed schools, and a future free from harmfulclimate change. 

Democracy in the judicial system

Five unelected judges should not be able to make unilateral decisions about the lives of millions of people. Replace the Supreme Court with a judicial body that is directly elected by workers in the U.S, with judges being directly accountable to the people. 

Image credit: Peter Cedric Rock Smith via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0