On May 3 of this year, news outlets and social media platforms shook in terror and fear as the political journal, Politico, leaked Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ‘s draft opinon of the Court’s decision to overturn the landmark case of Roe v Wade, which solidified by law a woman’s reproductive right to terminate her pregnancy. Once Roe is overturned, the right to obtain an abortion in the U.S. will go to the states, with many conservative states armed and ready to ban abortion rights. The hot-button issue of abortion raises many questions about wealth, access, privilege, and morality, and when drawn along racial lines, the issue becomes even more grey. However, the main question Roe v Wade set out to answer was the question of choice, specifically, is it in the constitutional rights of a woman to choose to carry her pregnancy to term? Debates all over social media sparked about choice, and how no woman should be forced to use her body as the vehicle to save another’s life, citing McFall v Shrimp as legal precedent. Others argue that women have the same right to bodily autonomy as men, who do not need legislation or spousal consent to legally obtain a vasectomy, or to access erectile dysfunction medication, such as Viagra. With debates both on and offline regarding body autonomy under the law, it is worth questioning how, under capitalism, body autonomy is essentially prohibited, making the overturn of a woman’s right to choose more the norm than the exception. Under capitalism, no one has the right to choose, and body autonomy is seen as a fundamental risk to the system, as opposed to a fundamental human right.
Capitalism is a Body- Snatcher
Under the economic system of capitalism, the means of production, as in, the resources and facilities that produce goods, are owned and controlled by private entities for profit, or capital, that is then used to produce more profit, or capital. Capitalism is inherently hierarchical, as the system must have both capitalists, those who own the means of production, and those who work to produce the capital, known as the proletariat. The means of production needs bodies: people to harvest crops, make clothing, serve food, and run franchise stores. Capitalism does not run without bodies, and thus the need for capitalism to run will result in the stripping away of the proletariat’s physical body to meet the needs of the system. What rights do you have over your body under capitalism? Because Capitalism needs bodies to run, the system will force incentives on you in order to do the undesirable, non-beneficial work of feeding the system. What you want for your body stands in direct opposition to what capitalism needs from your body. You want your body to relax and destress, Capitalism needs your body to be overworked and run-down. You want your body to utilize its functions four your benefit: making you food, making music, making love; capitalism needs your body to serve its need: making a profit. When capitalism is the law of the land, and its incentive is dire poverty, your needs come second, or do not come at all, to the needs of the true Supreme Court: the Capitalists.
Women’s Bodies Under Capitalism
Women’s bodies in a capitalist society are in a unique position, as both the means of production and the capital. Before The United States was formerly the United States, it was a collection of slave-holding stakes, where enslaved Black women and girls were both unpaid sexual gratification and unpaid labor. Their sexuality and reproductive potential, exploited through rape and forced breeding on breeding farms, were the means to produce more capital, as in, more slaves, whose bodies would in turn be used to produce either more inanimate capital to be sold for profit, or human capital, which could be sold or exploited once more to create more capital. As barbaric and inhumane as this practice seemed prior to the end of slavery in 1865, the use of women’s sexuality and reproduction to serve capitalism has gone essentially unchanged from the days of American enslavement.
From the Mill Girls in Lowell Massachusetts to prostitutes and other sex workers, to working mothers, are all, though not necessarily by choice, serving the interest of Capitalism by nature of their existence, and the literal price society places of beauty, sex, youth, and ability to bear children. The Mill Girls and other children across the United States engaged in child labor at textile mills for the profit of corporations, sex workers use the value that has been placed on their sexuality as the means to produce profit, either for their strip club, the massage parlor, or online sex platforms. During a woman’s pregnancy journey, pregnancy is used as the means to extract more profit: frequent trips to the OB-GYN, the consumption of prenatal vitamins, and the buying of baby toys, blankets and necessities. When the pregnant woman delivers, which in the US can cost upwards of $10,000, and goes back to work (to produce capital), the baby is used as the means for profit: paying for preschool, hiring a nanny, and paying a family member or babysitter to care for the child. The woman is essentially breeding a new workforce from the time she conceives, and the value based on her human capital (her child) is determined strictly by a system in need of bodies.
Abortion- The Right to Choose or A Stance Against Capitalism?
The ongoing debate about, and the potential overturn of, abortion raises timeless questions about inalienable rights, the requirements of personhood, and the privileges surrounding giving birth. Women should have the right to choose if and when they carry out a pregnancy, but, perhaps just as important, women deserve a say in whether or not they will use their body and the life of the child in their body as a vehicle to generate capital. The child born into this word is forced to participate in capitalism, perhaps abortion is the mother’s way of giving their child the freedom that capitalism will inevitably strip them of. Abortion is not the antidote for capitalism. Women who choose to terminate their pregnancy are not making a political stance, they are making a practical one. However, the practicality of this decision spits in the face of an economic system that lacks practicality at its foundation. There is no bodily autonomy under capitalism, for any person, but abortion is a start; not the act of termination itself, but the desire to take back your inalienable right to choose what grows in and comes out of, one’s body.
Rebecca Elliott is a writer, and public health professional currently residing in the Boston area. A policy analyst by profession, Rebecca has been trained in public health research, policy, and law. She has a deep love of knowledge, and believes that education is and always should be inherently revolutionary. When she is not diving into the politics of education, she enjoys reading, cooking, and finding the best ice cream spots.