Abortion Struggle: Fighting for choice, bodily autonomy, freedom!
Anne Engelhardt, ROSA Germany
During the first ROSA Conference in Vienna on 18 & 19 March 2023, there was an excellent discussion on the right to abortion and the choice of deciding whether or not to have children and when. Here, I want to sum up the debate even though it is impossible to do justice to all the points raised in the workshop. However, the debate
marked the start and not the end of the discussion.
There is a song by the Beasty Boys in which they sing, “It takes a second to wreck it – it takes time to build”. It is an excellent soundtrack for revolutionary socialist feminists when building their organisations and challenging sexism and other forms of oppression, assault and division within their organisations. It takes a second to wreck trust and comrades’ well-being when sexist jokes and behaviour happen, and it
can take years to rebuild trust if it is mendable at all.
But – “It takes a second to wreck it – it takes time to build” is also the reality for the myriads of women and queer people when they give birth. It takes months with an ever-changing body pumped with hormones; it takes 24-hour shifts every single day to nurse a new human being and take care of their sleep, hunger and breath. We give love, and attention, clean hundreds of kilos of laundry, and all of this over many, many, many years to bring up a new person, friend, comrade and worker.
When I was pregnant with my daughter three years ago, I had to stay six weeks in a hospital before she was born. In that time, dozens of doctors, nurses, midwives, social workers, etc., took care of me and the unborn new human being. Most of them were migrant workers from different backgrounds. At that time, a far-right and fascist attack happened in Hanau, a city just 200 km from our hospital. In that incident, nine migrant workers, including a mother of two children my age, were shot and killed. Later, it also became evident that the local police structures cooperated with the far-right attacker, letting him run away for hours, having locked doors in one of the shisha bars where the attacker would strike.
I remember we watched the news in the hospital, and the colleagues felt absolutely heartbroken by the attack on their people, working-class migrants like themselves.
That song came back to my head, and I thought: Live itself takes so much time to build – but only a second to wreck it.
Threats to bodily autonomy
Racist attacks are not the only threat to workers, especially migrant and female workers. As a comrade from Ireland said in the workshop, capitalism failed women and queer people in Tennessee on bodily autonomy, and it also does so on many other issues in so many ways in all regions of the world. A speaker who reported on her work in aid Access in US showed how important it is to save the lives of thousands of people with unwanted pregnancies. However, even, as a comrade from the United States pointed out: Also planned parenthood NGOs and organisations are failing us. On the one hand, they might support us in the choice of having or not having children but are union-busting (female) workers who fight for better working conditions in planned parenthood organisations.
Gaining and keeping our rights is not a straightforward story under capitalism. As Petr from the Chech Republic reported on the post-Stalinist countries: In the 1980s, Swedish people with unwanted pregnancies came to Poland to have a legal and safe abortion. Now, it is Polish people who need to scratch their little money together to leave this misogynist country and seek an abortion elsewhere. And this can directly even be connected to trafficking organisations who take money to bring those people to Vienna, as a comrade from Austria pointed out. She also reported on her experience of how ideologically entrenched the patriarchal capitalist health system is. How little it cares for the patients, how much even abortion treatment is part of profit-making when it costs between 500 and 800 Euros in private clinics that
do not even provide after-anaesthetic care.
A German ROSA activist referred to the health care and abortion crisis in the country. In East Germany, there was abortion on demand allowed until the 12. week of pregnancy. After the reunification, in the 1990s, the Christian Democratic government took that legal access away from all women and people who could become pregnant in Germany all together. And because it is illegal, medical universities are not obliged to teach medical students technics for abortion. Students for choice learn it in self-organised classes where they use Papayas to train safe pregnancy terminations. We still need to fight in Germany for the legalisation of abortion and also to avoid the deepening of the abortion crisis, which means a lack of access to that treatment as fewer and fewer doctors learn about and practice abortions. And now we see the consequences of Roe v Wade being overturned in the US, as comrades pointed
However, bodily autonomy is not limited to abortion rights but to our lives and bodies as a whole, because our body is what we have and also what we are. Part of our bodies is our voices and ability to speak up and raise grievances, anger and immediate demands to fight for our rights. But when, as a feminist activist from China pointed out, we are prohibited from speaking out as feminists to raise criticism, then this also takes away our bodily autonomy. And in China, this prohibition against
speaking up goes hand in hand with forcing female and queer workers to carry out unwanted pregnancies.
No Choice in an unsafe capitalist world
South Korea is now leading the global birth strike. People refuse to have children facing an unequal, violent, multi crises ridden world and future. What was the response of the South Korean government? They increase the working week to 69 hours, to squeeze labour power from them as long as possible,
which makes it even more justified for women and queers to refuse to give birth in a workers-hating world. The plan caused a mass protests among young workers in particular, forcing the government to retreat from the plan. No sufficient housing, jobs, child care, and access to the health sector keep people from having children.
Even in countries like Belgium, as a comrade from that country pointed out, there is no real choice. There are not enough doctors, but also not enough social safety for people to be able to bring up children.
Capitalism means unsafe labour conditions and unsafe medical conditions. It also means a hazardous world: Millions of women, queer people and children flee from inhabitable regions because of the ecological crisis, famine, heat waves and floods. They flee from war, poverty, and patriarchal violence in different forms. Because of these multiple crises, there are feminists in China who link the denial to get children with these crises by stating that the best thing you can do for your child is not to let it be born into this world at all. A part of the ecological movement in Germany calls itself the last generation. Doomerism is very wide spread among the young generations. How can such a perspectives allow us to have a choice?
A strategy for fight-back
What we need is a movement for a first generation. The first generation, that will have complete bodily autonomy, who live in a system that is not failing it on every level of its lives. This can only be a socialist democratic society in which we have full control over our bodies, and also the whole economy, the logistics system, and the care sector and where care is not in crisis but a visible integrated and joyful democratic part of our lives. We want a generation of parents that are not in doubt every day if they harm the next generation by having them brought up in such a crisis-ridden world. As a comrade from Mexico said, it will not be the liberal Feminists in the Morena party who will fight for a vital future. It also will not be pseudo-progressive governments like the Lula government in Brazil, which anyway had the chance to legalise abortion when it came to power years before the right-wing Bolsonaro government took over.
It is only the feminist socialist workers’ movement that we are building, together with co-thinkers, with a decisively anti-capitalist programme and strategy and democratic structures, who can regain the control of workers over their bodies via the workers’ control over the economy and society as a whole. In Ireland, as Katia reported, ROSA also won the right to free abortion including without any restrictions within the first 12 weeks. In Ireland, the feminist movement had different approaches including an approach that was characterised by a lack of boldness, and minimal demands, because of the focus on the political establishment. With Ruth Coppinger, we
had a feminist socialist in parliament that openly and boldly, together with ROSA and ISA, organised and led the fight to repeal the eight, withstanding any concessions – and with this approach – won.
Abortions are now accessible to hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland.
Our comrades organised immediate protests in the United States when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. In Seattle, together with our city councillor Kshama Sawant, they took the bold approach to demand a sanctuary city and funding of abortion and, in this way, inspired other movements to do the same. Here again, we achieved access to abortion for hundreds of thousands now and in the future.
However, the slogan of the US feminists in the 1960s: “No more backstreet abortions”, can only become true internationally and for all times when we fight for the whole working class. Our class has to break out from the backstreets of society and take the stage of history to stay there as the first generation to build a
free socialist feminist democratic society.