Revolutionary Worker #897, March 9, 1997
Debating whether women should have the right to abortion is like debating whether Black people should have the right not to be slaves. It's that fundamental a question.
It is a life and death issue. People on both sides of the barricades in this battle feel very strongly about this question exactly because it raises larger questions about the social relations between men and women and the whole way society is organized. But there is a right and wrong side to the argument.
The anti-abortionists argue abortion is murder because "fetuses are unborn children." And they say "the life of the fetus" is central to the abortion debate. But this is a lie.
History has shown that one of the main ways oppressive societies have established control over women is to control women's reproduction. From the time human societies became divided along property lines and male dominance was imposed over the family and society, the right to make decisions about reproduction has been taken away from women. The church and the state dictate women's subservience to men. And religious and political institutions, laws, and the weight of reactionary ideology all work together as a coercive weight on women. And yet women have never ceased to resist this coercion.
The state claims it has a "vested interest" in protecting the life of "pre-born" Americans. But what is this vested interest? Surely not some selfless interest in children in general! Millions of children in the U.S. suffer from lack of adequate health care, nutrition, day care, education, etc., as a matter of routine and as a direct result of this system's policies. Millions of children around the world suffer the terrible repercussions of U.S. imperialist policies ranging from starvation to the ravages of war. So what is this "vested interest"? It can only be a vested interest in regulating the lives and actions of women.
This is a stark example of how property relations--which lie at the heart of capitalist society--are also at the heart of the abortion issue. From the point of view of those who run this country, women are property to be controlled. And fetuses are property that has become politically and ideologically very useful in their efforts to put women down.
There are many different reasons why women get abortions. And they are all valid. No woman should feel guilty about terminating an unwanted pregnancy. And no woman should buy the crap that having an abortion is "selfish."
The birth of a child can be a source of great joy to a woman. But it can be a nightmare for a woman who for whatever reason does not want to have a child at a particular time or under particular circumstances. In such cases forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy is extremely cruel and sadistic. It will affect her entire life, and no woman's life should be twisted in such a way. No child should be born unwanted. No woman should be forced to choose between compulsory motherhood and a back-alley butcher.
Banning abortion is like rape--the violent assertion of male domination and male supremacist society over women, the forceful and violent control of women's bodies, in the most personal dimensions. Banning abortion means suppression of women by force of law and the state. It is institutionalized violence against women.
Today the right to abortion is still legal in the U.S. But restrictive state laws and the attacks of anti-abortion forces are making it harder and harder for women to exercise this right. There are fewer doctors performing abortions. So instead of going in early for a simple and safe medical procedure, many more women find themselves forced to wait for later and more difficult abortions or forced to bear unwanted children.
Abortion is a common and significant part of women having control over their own lives. And women have to stop being defensive about it. No matter how late in a pregnancy, no matter how much it might be able to live outside a woman's body, a fetus is NOT a child. And abortion is NOT murder.
"Life" is a characteristic of everything on this planet which is capable of growth, development, active transformation of its environment, reproduction, etc. It is characteristic of every animal, every plant, and every cell for that matter. A fertilized egg is "alive." But so is a human ovum, a human sperm cell, or a human skin cell! Obviously every living thing cannot and should not be preserved.
A pregnancy is a nine-month process during which a fertilized egg grows, develops and goes through a series of transformations before it can finally become a baby--a new human being--at the time of its birth. BEFORE birth, it is not a child or a person with an independent existence. It is a developing mass of tissue integrally connected to the woman's vital biological processes. It is part of that woman with no separate social existence. It has the potential to become human. But it is not yet a separate social being that should have separate social rights. For that it must have entered society as a separate entity. That is, it must have been born.
Here lies the heart of the struggle around abortion: As long as reproduction is rooted in individual women, the basis exists for the social regulation of reproduction to be an oppressive thing for women. Exactly because of this, the overall physical and social well-being of women must take priority over any subordinate processes, such as reproduction. This is a question of women's health. But even more, it is a question of women's right to function fully in society.
A woman who is forced to bear a child against her will is assaulted and degraded in body and spirit. On the other hand, a woman who can control her own reproduction and decide whether and when to have children will be stronger, more independent, and better able to deal with the world at large, outside the confines of the family. She will be better able to lift her head, better able to dream and visualize the way the world COULD BE. And she will be better able to act to realize these dreams. Stronger women make stronger fighters, for themselves, for their children, for all the women, men, and children everywhere who have known conditions of oppression.