The fight for universal abortion rights is the fight to control the reproduction of labor. Capitalism requires ever expanding markets and resources in order to function, and this includes human resources. This central fight for resources is not confined to abortion and its enforcement — be they forced or disallowed — it is also wrapped up in how the family unit is set up, and who pays for that laborer to be raised, to be healthy, to be housed, to be fed, to be educated, and to be able to stop working altogether and retire. It is the fight to privatize the conditions and needs of our lives, it is the fight to control what our productive years are spent doing, and what happens to us when we can’t or won’t work.
The capitalist class has always had an active interest in demographics and populations, not only here in the US but abroad as well. Foreign workers are brought in as American birth rates have declined. Even as they cause unrest at home with nativist and racist elements, both Republicans and Democrats have championed some sort of immigration to the US. They have also pushed for people to have ‘more babies’ in order to boost the birth rate, claiming the economy will ‘collapse’ under the weight of an aging population and not enough workers to support them.
Rather than providing universal welfare, time off, healthcare, housing and other forms of public assistance, their answer is usually brute force in both immigration and domestic policy. They bring immigrants when the capitalist economy needs their labor, kick them out when conditions change. They force women to carry pregnancies to term, make family planning resources scarce to impossible to get, and so on. This flies in the face of available evidence — countries with well protected rights and equality for women have seen birth rates begin to rise again, as families are able to combine work and family without having to make sacrifices.
Childbearing and rearing benefits all of society, and especially the bosses hungry for a larger workforce. American culture, however, individualizes and privatizes this decision, leaving the costs to parents, and especially to women. In other countries, families receive paid parental leave, home visits from nurses, and baby supplies. Here, children are seen as a luxury item, a choice for those who have the resources only and an undue burden on society for everyone else. Poorer families are deemed burdensome, making it easier to chip away at the social support they would need to offset the cost and emotional toll of childcare. Jenny Brown lays this out well in Birth Strike: “The child welfare system hides the systematic reasons for families’ hardships by laying the blame on individual parents’ failings.” Rather than acknowledging the Sisyphean task of childcare with no support, we punish parents already struggling to make ends meet.
Liberalism has failed to protect our right to abortion because its analysis is individualized and idealistic. “If only everyone could agree that abortion is healthcare, it will always be law.” Changing hearts and minds is always a good exercise — it can help shift people’s perspectives on how they view a particular issue, which in turn can push them to move in a particular direction. Of course, a material analysis of the world shows us that public opinion is not enough. Currently 74% of Americans approve of Roe; if hearts and minds were all that mattered, then our abortion rights ought to be protected. But we live in a deeply undemocratic society, where capitalists and the ruling class restrict our rights whenever it might benefit them. Abortion restriction is class war, and we need to respond in kind.
Individualistic liberalism will not help us. “Only women should be part of the conversation” — or to silo it off further, “only women from marginalized communities.” We see this same attitude across issues — “if only we could change people’s mind about race, about religion, about queerness, about women, and only those authentic voices, we can change the world.” Socialists know better.
The goal shouldn’t be to simply silo these issues, but rather connect them to the broader issue of power, who holds it, who wields it, and how a revolution in that power is the key to unlocking the solution to all of these problems. Where we are told abortion is about personal choice, socialists understand it is about the liberation of our bodies from the needs of capital. Where liberals defend abortion as a key poverty-fighting right, socialists understand the real roots of poverty, and limiting people’s desire to have children should never be part of the equation. Liberals will insist it is about controlling women for its own sake — socialists understand it is part of a larger attack to control the working class and its reproduction.
A robust non-profit sector and individual charitable giving is also part of liberalism’s answer to fulfilling the needs that capital can’t meet. Without politicization attached to the work, however, it only serves the interests of the capitalist class — privatize human needs, push individuals to support each other, and leave the mechanisms of the state to them to wield in their own interests, and for their own benefit. We all somehow or another engage in this type of volunteer work — some of us, professionally — but even this requires the goods and services that a capitalist mode of production provides. After all, whatever we distribute is bought under an exploitative capitalist mode of production, and whatever services we offer come from our still-exploited labor, or relatively small available volunteer time. It is unsustainable, it keeps us from organizing as a class, and it obscures the root of why we are constantly fighting the battle to have our needs met.
Socialists understand the issue of abortion through a materialist lens, and can therefore build strategies to win the fight once and for all. The centrality of class struggle flips on its head who in society holds power — it wrestles it from the capitalists and seizes it for ourselves. When we win unions, when we win universal programs, when we remove the profit and privatization from the fulfillment of human need, we have taken away all of the power the capitalists hold. We don’t seek to “Save Roe V Wade”, we seek liberation from our rights being tenuously given to us at the whim of the elite. Any right that was given can be taken away; we need to decisively win these rights.
Abortion isn’t the only battle to control the labor class and privatize the cost of its reproduction. Abortion — now being pursued very aggressively by a nativist, white supremacist wave in order to quell the unrest that comes with immigration — is part of what we we can also see in virtually every other struggle as workers. To truly understand how abortion is part of a larger effort to control our labor and bodies, we can look to everything that touches and defines our lives.
This is a fight to control another point of (re)production of a capitalist resource — human labor. Couched in a culture war to obscure their very real fear of declining birth rates, they whip up frenzies by other liberals and conservatives to completely miss the point when we are busy arguing with each other, allowing them to continue their grip on the real power over our lives: their power over our labor, from birth to death. The capitalist class has a vested interest in the production of humans at minimal cost of resources. Employers benefit from women’s unpaid work in a society that minimizes public spending. Only after labor power is liberated from private profit will we be free.
At the center of the Venn diagram of issues — abortion, carceral state, sexism, racism, immigration, anti-queerness/homophobia, and so on, is our position as a class. Most of us are workers, it is the social relation that binds us, and it cuts across identities because class is not an identity — it is our location in the production process and is therefore positional — we occupy, collectively, a position of power. And so only through collective class consciousness-raising and struggle are we able to wield that power over the elite. Only then do we have the power to remake society to serve ourselves and each other.
This is why, without class struggle and the liberation of labor, we cannot ultimately win any right, bodily autonomy, or liberation. It can’t be given — it must be taken.
What can we, as socialists, do right now
All of this is not to say there aren’t actionable fights we can organize around now that are specific to winning abortion fights around the country. DSA Chapters have a long list to choose from, and here are just a few:
Repeal the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prevents any public funds from being used for abortions. Repealing this can free up funds in many states for those who cannot access abortion because it is cost prohibitive and have it covered through Medicaid and other public funding.
Expand who can provide abortions. Although it can vary by state, generally only doctors can provide abortions. This is unnecessary — we can fight through state legislatures to expand who can be an abortion provider: Nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and so on. Here is where we can get healthcare unions involved in the struggle. This will be extremely important to meet the demand for abortions in states like Illinois, which will almost certainly see a rise in people coming to the state for the procedure. Expanding who can provide abortions will also lower the cost overall.
Over the counter abortion pills: Currently, despite their safety and effectiveness, abortion pills are not available over the counter. We can fight to change this, making it easier not only to get them in states where abortion will remain legal (and help lower the overall cost of abortion), but we can also send them to states where abortion is unavailable.
Extradition laws: We don’t know how these will look in every state (yet), but there will be a battle to extradite people from states who help people in no-abortion states get abortions. We need to protect those who are aiding in abortions from places where abortion is illegal. We must work through our legislative bodies to ensure we are not allowing extradition of those who help people obtain abortions.
Engage and organize in mass movements: While generally large demonstrations do very little to nothing to move the powerful into action, they can serve as consciousness raising events, and demonstrate just how large the demand is for bodily autonomy. They are also places to organize — socialists don’t just march with people, we organize them into action and can reach thousands of people this way. This is one way to move average workers into a mass movement for universal healthcare, childcare, family leave, public housing, and a slew of other material wins for working people.
Union contracts and reproductive healthcare: DSA is currently involved in a lot of labor organizing, both through the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee and the Rank and File Strategy. We should be working with union members to develop strategies to ensure full reproductive healthcare is included in all union contracts, raising the floor for all workers.
Attack the filibuster in the Senate: Needing 60 Senators to approve legislation means we have no legislative defense against the Supreme Court. In practice, this means the Supreme Court, not Congress, has the final say over far too much public policy. DSA’s electoral work should incorporate ending the filibuster, and develop strategies with electeds to do so.
Additionally, one can engage in the existing ‘solutions’ in the neoliberal state — charity, fundraising, and ‘protecting Roe’. We should be clear eyed, as socialists, that these are not long term solutions and should instead focus our energy where no other political party or non-profit is engaged: building the power of the working class to wrestle power away from the elite. Only then will we find true liberation from their grip.