Worldwide socialist feminist struggle needed for abortion rights
International Socialist Alternative and ROSA International Socialist Feminists call for worldwide solidarity a
s women, workers and poor people in the USA rise up to defend the right to abortion. The US state - which has falsely claimed to wage war for women’s rights across the world - is now waging war on women within its own borders, a war that has consequences worldwide. We, socialist feminists and workers, build international networks of resistance in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Russia, China and other parts of Asia.
On May 3, it was leaked that the majority of judges in the US Supreme Court aim to tear up the Roe v Wade ruling which since 1973 grants women the legal right to abortion in the US and is the basis for many other progressive laws, including contraception- and LGBTQ+ rights. This has been met with wrath by women, young people and workers in the country, where the great majority want to keep the right to abortion. Protest has followed protest. As we rise in support of this struggle across the world, we do so because it is needed.
It was the so called Second Wave of women’s struggle in the 1960s and -70s, of mass struggle and -organising, which in many countries won the right to abortion. In other countries this inherent right of women and pregnant people to decide over their own bodies has been won later. In the last ten years, the feminist struggle has won important battles. A few examples: Ireland won abortion rights in 2018, South Korea in 2019, Argentina in 2020 and abortion was decriminalised across Mexico in 2021. Colombia’s highest court in February this year legalised abortion up to week 24.
Alongside this, the right is pushing their fight against women’s and trans peoples rights. Last year, the Christian right managed to force through a near-total ban on abortions in Poland, in China the dictatorship is restricting the right to abortion as part of its drive to create a larger domestic economic market, and now the US Supreme Court follows suit.
It is Donald Trump’s sexist agenda that is now being rolled out. While in power, Trump appointed three new judges to the court and he consciously chose anti-abortion rights candidates in order to tilt the Court’s majority and tear up Roe. If this succeeds, abortions will automatically be prohibited in 13 states which have already anticipated events and enacted laws which they are now pressurising the Supreme Court to underwrite. Many more states are expected to ban abortion in the weeks and months after a decision to overturn Roe, if that ends up being the final court decision. The abortion ban in Texas, already in place for six months, calls on anyone in contact with a pregnant woman wanting to have an abortion to become a state informer - a taxi driver, for example, could be convicted for aiding and abetting. Ahead of us, in other words, the unusual situation could arise where people in the USA would travel to Mexico in order to enjoy their human rights.
But the people’s anger is as great also towards the Democratic Party - because the Democrats allowed this to happen. Both Obama and Joe Biden had promised to legislate the right to abortion but they have both since betrayed their promises. Once again the Democrats have shown that they are one of the two parties of big business. Had a mass working class party existed, it could instead have prepared workers, women, youth and Black people for the fight that is required. The lesson from the Black Lives Matter movement, which also received huge support internationally, is that spontaneous protests are not enough. More organising and a socialist political programme, that sees through the double nature of the state, are needed.
There is no way out of this but to struggle. All over the world, women are gasping for breath - is this for real?! The Covid-pandemic’s horrific years of illness and death gave rise to a shadow pandemic of ill-health and poverty - in particular for women, both through the intensification of double work as schools and care facilities were closed, of stress for all healthcare workers and not least through the explosion of men’s violence against women in the home. But what the world’s governments set out to rescue was the profits of the big corporations and the banks. We have not even emerged from this nightmare, but a next crisis has already hit us in the face. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has seen militarisation shoot through the roof worldwide. So are food prices. Oxfam warns that another 263 million people could fall into extreme poverty this year.
On top of all this, then, an ideological offensive against women’s most fundamental right - the right to decide over their own bodies. Should the “pro-life” agenda in the US succeed in abolishing Roe v Wade, it will be a blow against women all over the world. Agnes Callamard, the General Secretary of Amnesty International, warns that this would “set a terrible example that other governments and anti-rights groups could seize upon around the world in a bid to deny the right of women, girls and other people who can become pregnant”. Other countries could follow suit and enact harsh laws, Amnesty says and points to Poland’s abortion ban which was previously criticised by the EU - but now, Poland’s right wing government finds an ally in the US Supreme Court. Also, we may add, that criticism has in any case been silenced since all these states have formed a tightly-knit bond against Russia.
In the same week as the High Court plan to crush Roe v Wade was leaked, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan announced that it is now compulsory for women to wear the burqa (a veil covering the entire body and face) whenever leaving their homes. Socialist feminists across the world receive these news with dismay. NATO’s war in Afghanistan was waged under the pretext of “liberating the women”. But peace cannot be built through militarism by an imperialist power. Out of all the resources the USA spent in Afghanistan, only two percent were designated for economic development. 86 percent were military expenses. This led to devastation and chaos, out of which the Taliban could find their way back to rule.
The misery in Afghanistan is enormous as all foreign aid has ceased. So, firstly, many women won’t have the money to buy a burqa. Being prohibited from even showing your face when you go outside is an extreme form of objectification. Women are reduced to things that belong to men. Women’s mobility and independence is literally restricted by the mass of cloth imposed on their bodies. Similar mechanisms are behind states restricting the right to abortion. Women’s bodies are made into objects in the service of state interests. The conservative right in the US, Putin’s despotic regime in Russia, and the dictatorship in China all want to reinforce the role of the family as a bearing pillar of hierarchical societies.
That the world’s most powerful imperialist state is attempting to take this step risks setting a dangerous standard which we must stop. Already the so-called Global Gag-rules, which Reagan was the first to introduce, have hit poor women across the world hard. They prohibit NGOs which receive US aid money from advocating for the right to abortion. Donald Trump extended these rules to the entire health sector. Aid organisations in Africa testify on how governments, such as in Kenya, use this policy of US imperialism as a crutch in their own suppression of the abortion rights movement. According to the WHO, three out of four abortions carried out in Latin America and Africa in the years 2015-2019 were unsafe. As the Guttmacher institute points out: “the vast majority—92%—of women of reproductive age (15–49) in the African region live where abortion is highly or moderately restricted.”
Millions of women risk finding themselves in situations where they are forced to go through pregnancy and parenthood against their will. In the main this will affect working class- and poor women. Children will grow up in difficult home circumstances.
Women’s health will also be impacted for the worse, through higher numbers of pregnancies, mental suffering and also the use of dangerous abortion methods. Furthermore, due to the profit-interest and class divided healthcare, maternal death rates are already unacceptably high in the US. Abortion restrictions that make pregnant people’s bodies sites for legal wranglings will make pregnancy more dangerous for everyone and lead to more maternal deaths. Those on low incomes without access to health insurance will be especially affected. And Black women who also experience racism within the medical system will be especially affected — with maternal deaths amongst Black women expected to rise by 33 percent.
This in itself is a blow to women’s struggle and to workers’ struggle. The reactionary, anti-feminist Trump-right will be strengthened in other countries and along with it, gender-based violence, transphobia, racism, fanatism and violence. It is a blow against everyone’s health regardless of gender when social welfare gains are threatened.
This revolution-in-reverse in the world’s most dominant state strengthens right wing populism and religious fundamentalism all over the world, and weakens women’s rights everywhere. This in turn weakens all other important struggles such against war, for workers’ rights and for the climate.
This is why International Socialist Alternative and ROSA International Socialist Feminists call on women’s struggle organisations, trade unions, feminists, LGBTQ+ organisations and social movements across the world to act now. Our comrades in Socialist Alternative in the US have already brought thousands into the streets to fight this ban, and are building for student and worker walkouts and strong socialist feminist contingents on mass actions currently taking place.
Socialist feminists worldwide must discuss the issues in the workplace, in the residential area, in the community. See how all our struggles are connected. The conservative right may feel strengthened to launch similar attacks on abortion rights in more countries, and to escalate the repression against feminists and socialists where abortion rights are yet to be won.
ISA and ROSA have experience of previous abortion rights struggles. ROSA in Ireland played a pivotal role in the mass movement that won free abortion on request in early pregnancy only a few years ago. We know that this fight can be won. The Eight Amendment which outlawed abortion in Ireland was even inscribed in the Constitution. But laws and courts can be changed by the living forces of society. In Ireland, our siblings in ROSA took civil disobedience public action with the abortion pills — showing that no matter what the law is women will exert control over their own bodies. This was a major factor in the winning of abortion up to twelve weeks on request.
The strongest force for change is the organised working class, because we the workers can strike the system where it hurts the most - through strikes and mass protests we can stop the profit machinery upon which the capitalists depend.
Together with the slogan my body - my choice goes MediCare for all, increased minimum wages, affordable housing programmes, free school and -preschool, and other demands for a decent society for children and their parents. Most abortion in the US (and in other places as well) have roots in economic vulnerability. (Guttmacher Institute data showed that 73 percent said financial stress was behind the decision to terminate the pregnancy, US).
The ultra reactionary plans of the US Supreme Court, which refers to laws from the Middle Ages, shows how the ultimate purpose of the state is not to ensure that each person gets to live a good and secure life, as it should be, but to serve the interests of a small, powerful elite. It shows that the state, when pushed, will act to preserve the unjust class society with its built-in women’s oppression and racism intact. Therefore we must fight for another system, where the state is controlled and run democratically by all workers.
We are socialist feminists precisely because we realise that capitalism has to be ended. In a democratic socialist society the large economic resources are owned in common and invested first and foremost into social need/welfare , climate transition and combating poverty, directed to make sure that no gender is oppressed, that every person gets to decide over their bodies, that all children have a secure upbringing and a bright future.
On our way there, every sexist attack must be answered. #MeToo showed the strength in collective discussion and -action, but #MeToo was quickly thinned out. The feminist strikes carry more weight in struggle but cannot stop at being symbolic actions - they should move to involve the entire working class, because sexism is an issue that affects us all and which divides our struggle. To begin with, in order to stop the attack against Roe v Wade and the effect it would have across the world, ROSA and ISA organise solidarity protests on the 14th of May in several countries to help build pressure internationally on the Court decision. This is only the beginning - if you want to help build a fighting solidarity movement, get in touch.