by Elizabeth Rogers
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v Wade to federally protect abortion rights in the United States. Less than 50 years later, the Supreme Court overturned it in June 2022. This landmark decision means states now have the individual power to determine if abortion is legal. As a result, 136 million people have lost abortion access in the US, almost a third of the population. The Supreme Court reconsidered the 1973 precedent because states like Alabama and Arkansas passed laws that banned abortion–extreme instances of the right-wing strategy to attack abortion rights, which also includes “heartbeat” bills and Texas’ 6-week abortion ban.
These states could not uphold these laws until the Supreme Court overturned Roe. Now that the federal precedent has been removed as a barrier, about half of the states in the US are expected to ban abortion access in some way, while the other half are expected to uphold their existing laws that ensure an individual’s right to abortion services. Although it may seem reassuring that some states will uphold abortion rights, the right to decide what happens to one’s body is a basic human right and ought to be guaranteed regardless of state residency.
Naturally, people across the country were horrified to learn of the Supreme Court decision, especially working-class people who knew they would bear the brunt of it. The ruling elite and the rich will always be able to access abortion services either by paying cash under the table or by traveling to an abortion-friendly state–something which can be impossible for working-class people, forcing them into unwanted or dangerous pregnancies and further trapping them in the cycle of capitalist poverty and brutality. The cost of raising a child to 18 years old in the United States is $230,000, or around $13,000 a year for 18 years! No matter the price, working people – especially working people who can get pregnant – must have the ability to decide when and if they want to have a child.
While some states were poised to shut down abortion clinics immediately on June 24th after the Roe v Wade decision was made public, some states like Kansas proposed, or are expected to propose, amendments to their constitutions to ban abortion access. On August 2nd, Kansas residents voted on an amendment to the Kansas state Bill of Rights that would repeal the current precedent established by a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision that ensured an individual’s autonomy over their body and a right to access abortion.
As expected, right-wing interest groups pumped millions of dollars into ads and misinformation campaigns about the abortion referendum question. To make matters worse, the bill itself was constructed to be confusing. For example, the amendment would have prohibited the use of government funding for abortion even though state funding for abortion was already non-existent. It also included open-ended language that would have allowed the state legislature to create laws “regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, laws that account for circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, or circumstances of necessity to save the life of the mother.”
Nothing in the amendment creates these exceptions and leaves it to the legislative process, where workers are left to hope that elected officials uphold their interests. Instead of creating a clear and concise ballot question, right-wing politicians proposed a confusing and open-ended amendment that would give the state free reign to legislate abortion. This opens the door for the revival of bills that limit individual bodily autonomy, like HB 2210 which sought to ban gender confirmation surgeries in Kansas.
The results of the vote strongly reflect the nationwide opinion on abortion rights, with 60 percent of voters rejecting the amendment and upholding the current precedent permitting abortions in Kansas. While Democrats, including President Biden, have praised the decision, let there be no mistake; this is not a win for Democrats–it is a win for the working class. Democrats had almost 50 years since Roe v Wade was decided to try and codify abortion rights nation-wide and have continuously failed to do so.
Unfortunately, even if abortion access becomes federally legal, the ruling class will always work to roll back the gains made by the working class, as seen in Kansas. This is why a political party representing actual working peoples’ interests is a fundamental first step to creating a society that guarantees reproductive rights and prioritizes the needs of the majority over the greed and profits of a few. The abortion vote in Kansas also demonstrates the untapped energy of working-class mass movements and their potential to create true democracy for working-class people, which could be directed and organized by a workers’ party.
Abortion rights are just the beginning of the gains that mass movements with the added power of a workers’ party could achieve by pressuring the capitalist judicial and legislative system. Mass protest movements with political power independent of the capitalist class could defend and extend abortion rights, win universal and inclusive healthcare, childcare, secure affordable housing, and expand voting rights. Such reforms would improve the lives of working people under capitalism and build their confidence to organize for socialism.
Kansas was only the start, as several states, including Michigan, Alaska, Iowa, and Pennsylvania, have proposed restrictive abortion bills in the near future. Organized mass movements will be crucial in these states to ensure safe abortion remains available. Unions should take a leading role in mobilizing their members and other workers into a movement to get abortion rights put into law, leaning on the strength of the working class rather than the hollow promises of the Democratic party.