As the news erupted on Monday evening of a leak in the Supreme Court’s draft opinion piece that ultimately may reverse the monumental 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the right to abortion, left-wing organizations and parties immediately went to take the streets with working women against this travesty on our bodily autonomy. Since the 1973 controversial decision, the right wing and ultra religious Christian groups have long lobbied politicians to overturn or create legislation to ban this right for women, and it may appear that they have finally found grand success. The criticisms against the right wing’s “Pro-Life” movement are numerous and I will not address them here as that would be redundant. Instead, I will focus on the left’s attitudes of abortion and women’s healthcare and how in fact, the current trend among the left is detrimental to our relationship with proletarian women.
The Left and Womanhood
It is no secret that among the left, working women have been leaving our movement in droves whether through being pushed about by chauvinism, exploitation, or worse – violence. That has been the basis of the creation of anti-imperialist and left wing groups that are women-only such as CODEPINK and Af3irm. Patriarchy and its baggage have found its noose tightened among revolutionary women even in organizations claiming to fight for their liberation, and through the years we have seen revolutionary women become disillusioned with the capability of our movement for it. I do not blame them, we must not shame them but instead rip our movement free from patriarchy and become a movement women are protected in.
But whether through the remnants of liberal feminism, idealism, and the lack of Marxist feminist analysis in left organizations, the left is losing its legitimacy with working women. It’s almost as if the plights of women and our reproductive care are just a concept to the left and not a lived reality for millions of working women. There is an idealist view of abortion and even worse, lack of uproar about women’s access to healthcare and work – making it seem like the only time we speak about women are during defending abortion and #MeToo moments. This has given a revival to the radical feminist movement that many young working women are flocking to as they’ve yet to have their issues revealed among the left. In fact some argue the fight for abortion is simply a culture issue and to be fair, the way the left fights for it is cultural and less economic.
Prior to this SCOTUS leak regarding Roe v. Wade, when was the last time we spoke about the lack of comprehensive study on women’s health? When was the last time we argued for accessibility and affordability of emergency contraceptives? Have we en masse pushed for scientists to research an extension beyond the 72 hour period for Plan B, or even how ineffective it is for overweight women? In states like Texas and South Dakota, emergency contraceptive pills are extremely limited in access and quite expensive. Birth control too is expensive and as millions of women and girls are prohibited from accessing it whether by lack of healthcare or laws restricting the pill by age.
Comrades, this is our fault because this was our task. The capitalist class, the liberals and of course the right will never make it their priority to champion for comprehensive study and access to healthcare for women and girls nor would they be interested in critiquing what little options there are today. We waited so long and sat on our hands that now we have neither the healthcare nor the last-result options for women in this country. Of course we did not ask the right to lobby against us nor did we push the Supreme Court to make such a heinous decision, but likewise we let the issue go completely disregarded and we contributed to failing the women of our country. And worse, the few organizations like Af3irm and Women for Racial and Economic Equality (WREE) have been and continue to struggle for women’s rights, were instead attacked by the left and smeared as state agents.
While we have been struggling for unions and better workplace conditions, we must connect the woman’s relationship with abortion and motherhood as economic conditions. Women in this country have been placed with the double burden of unpaid domestic work and employment, being doubly exploited at home and at the office. This is unappealing to working women of our time and the brunt of capitalism has resulted in now seeing a decline in reproduction rates. According to the Statista Research Department’s report in May 2021, the fertility rate needed to maintain the population sits at 2.1 children per woman but we have fallen below that rate to 1.77 children per woman since 2017. The number of births in the US has also steadily declined. Some will attribute this to life expectancy increasing, thus prolonging the decision to have a child. But the truth is that in these economic conditions, having a child seems so inconceivable. Housing is expensive and in places like New York City, most adults live with roommates who certainly would be partial to a crying infant at 3am. The cost of living increases while wages remain stagnant. Healthcare and education continue to send thousands every year into bankruptcy. Less and less adults are able to afford their own homes and then we wonder why birth rates are declining. The root of the issue is capitalism.
We need to remember these realities when we fight for abortion, that when we fight for women’s rights we are not beginning and ending with the right to an abortion. In our fight to defend Roe v. Wade, it cannot be lost on us the multifaceted class warfare against women. Nor should we glamorize the procedure, as sadly, that is what we’re beginning to see.
The Romanticization of Abortion and the Left
Quickly, organizations mobilized thousands of people at a moment’s notice all over the country to show their outrage against possible overturning Roe v. Wade and demand that women’s right to an abortion be protected. It is exhilarating to see the growth of our movement following the devastation that we’ve seen after the counter revolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. While more people are joining our ranks, we still struggle to keep women for reasons aforementioned.
Writer and revolutionary feminist Lavy Shwan has long been vocal in her support for women’s liberation and critique of the sex trade which she personally lived through. She has shown her dedication and her prioritization to uplifting working women from the strife imposed on them by this capitalist regime. Yet in February of 2022, while on recovery from removing breast implants which are fed to women as a necessary component to achieving beauty, she wrote online about the political theater surrounding the fight for abortion is, citing that it lacks any depth to transforming and materially uplifting working women. She was immediately hailed as a chauvinist, accusations thrown against her as being right wing and moralistic, all because she critiqued the movement surrounding abortions. At no point did Shwan say that women should be banned from having the procedure nor should they be prosecuted for having one. She simply critiqued the political theater of the pro-choice movement that makes a departure from real Marxist feminism.
This is a point that one may have to sit with themselves before immediately reacting to — the political theater of the pro-choice movement. At the recent mobilizations in favor of Roe v. Wade, activists took to the streets with signs demonstrating their frustration against this decision with signs like “Defend Roe v. Wade” and “Abolish the Supreme Court”. These are objectively good and winning slogans. But aspects that were particularly troubling about these protests were the signs that read “We love abortions” “pro-woman, pro-choice, pro-abortion”. If these signs were held by liberal, this would not come as a shock. But these were signs made and written by Marxists and paraded as a testament to our movement. This is the most egregious error of the left’s relationship to women.
While lived experience must be limited in our political analysis, I’m starting to believe only those who have had an abortion understand the complexities of it all. The left treats abortions as though it is a simple procedure – easy peasey lemon squeezy. A last form of birth control is all. They cite the brevity of the procedure as evidence and parade women who have had abortions and support the right to abortion around as a political token. I have had an abortion. I support a woman’s right to have an abortion under any circumstance she feels necessary. But I do not support romanticizing the single hardest decision a woman may have to make in her life, a choice that could alter her life, her emotional and physical health.
While it is now rare that a woman will die or become infertile after having an abortion, thanks to medical development and the legality of abortion procedures, by no means is the procedure light on your reproductive system. The procedure lasts roughly ten minutes, but most women are left awake, feeling every excruciatingly painful tug and dig. In the decision to not follow through with the pregnancy, a woman also undergoes the surgery awake and sentient which can be psychologically damaging to those particularly emotional about the pregnancy. After the procedure ends and the painkillers wane off, she is sent home with a caretaker bleeding heavily through pad after pad, cramping everywhere a zygote or fetus once was. In the subsequent weeks, her menstrual cycle becomes completely thrown out of whack leading to possibly changing the nature a woman experiences her next period. An abortion is not the same as a root canal and while not all women experience the emotional trauma and depression that follows, they will undergo the same physical experience.
There’s this idea that women that decide to have abortions all go with the decision unscathed. This is to counter the right wing moralistic narrative that women who have abortions will have lifelong regret and suffering. Make no mistake, the decision to have an abortion is largely not done recklessly or impulsively. But two things can be true at once. Under capitalism, women are under much economic exploitation and strain as it is, and motherhood is not any easier. Many women choose to have an abortion because they cannot afford or take on motherhood at the moment. Many women who chose an abortion have children later on in life. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 6 in 10 women who have had abortions are now mothers. In the US, a mother is responsible for her child and her alone. She must pay and find childcare when she's at work, she must have the burden of housework and employment. The child is a representation of her upbringing. It is not an easy task under such an individualist society. So it should not be in the least bit controversial to raise that capitalism fuels the demand for abortions and the decline in rates of child birth. It should not be controversial to state as Marxists, we must strive for a society where abortion demands decline through expanding study of women’s health, through access to healthcare and emergency contraceptives, using abortion as a last case option. That does not mean to limit abortion under any circumstances, but when women’s health is a priority and when women have their basic needs met, when we finally break free from wage slavery, then we will see less and less demand for abortions.
Women Among Our Ranks
Lastly, another troubling aspect of our pro-choice movement among the left is our reluctance to cast this as a woman’s issue. Abortion rates have increased in 2019 from their previous steady decline, just as recessions and the COVID pandemic saw women losing work and facing housing insecurity. The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group, reported that 94% of those who have had abortions identify as women. Yet, among the left we are seeing a resistance to saying “women’s right to an abortion” instead calling them “vagina-havers” or “people with uteruses”. It is a double blow when through the struggle of losing our right to bodily autonomy, we then become dehumanized and unnamed by those who are fighting for our liberation.
How can we expect working women to join us, how can we expect to be the crusaders in defense of women’s rights when we refuse to even say the word ‘woman’? Among the left, there is always the desire to be inclusive and bring a collective together under a banner. As noble as this is, it obfuscates that 94% of those getting abortions identify as women, it is clear this is a woman’s issue. This does not mean it is solely a woman’s issue, but we must respect those affected.
In the struggle for Black liberation, it is often noted by the right wing that there are more white people murdered by the police than Black people. Of course this statistic does not account for the fact that proportionately, white people make a larger percentage of the population and if we took the rates of the population into account, Black people are the vast majority of victims of police and state sanctioned violence. Exceedingly. Police violence is an issue that harms and kills the Black people of this country, of course that is not denying other races and ethnic groups are victims too. But into the question of police harm, it is clear as day that the issue is one especially pertinent to Black people and we recognize that fact on the left. But why can’t we acknowledge this for women? Women’s issues are routinely ignored day to day, but when the moment comes to stand up and roar for women’s liberation, we won’t even say ‘woman’. How on Earth do we expect working women to join us when we won’t even name them.
The Left has become alienated from women, and women have become alienated from themselves in light of the lack of Marxists taking on the task to champion them. I cannot understate how much disservice we do to ourselves and women when we don’t take on the economic positions of women’s struggles and reduce them to political trends that dissipate. Whatever the result of this draft may be, until capitalism is abolished, until women are raised from the depths of their plunder, working women will still be doubly exploited by domestic work and employment, women will suffer from lack of healthcare. Until we begin to address this, women will not feel at home in any of our movements.
Kayla Popuchet is a Peruvian-American CUNY student studying Latin American and Eastern European History, analyzing these region's histories under a scientific socialist lens. She works as a NYC Housing Rights and Tenants Advocate, helping New York's most marginalized evade eviction. Kayla is also a member of the Party of Communists USA and the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project.