Socialist Worker

Why socialists should back abortion rights

The right to end a pregnancy is a vital part of the fight for women's liberation

Issue No. 2269

Tory MP Nadine Dorries is leading the charge to make it harder for women to access abortion.

It’s not the first time that those on the right have tried to restrict a woman’s right to choose. They hate the fact that women have won some rights to control their own bodies.

Some try to undermine abortion rights by arguing that abortion is an “unnatural” product of a “permissive” society. In fact, there is evidence as far back as the 4th century of women ending pregnancies.

Socialists support a woman’s right to choose. The right to control our bodies stops us from simply being slaves to our biology. Women can never be equal with men, let alone win liberation, without the right to control their fertility.

In class societies, the state has always tried to control women’s fertility—with horrendous consequences. Making abortion illegal doesn’t stop them. But it does make them much more dangerous.

Today at least 70,000 women still die every year because they don’t have access to legal, safe abortions and are forced to endure unsafe terminations.

Restrictions on abortion rights don’t affect all women in the same way. It has always been much easier for rich women to access safe abortions.

But people didn’t try to stop abortions when only rich women could access them.

The first anti-abortion campaign was set up to oppose the 1967 Abortion Act—which would give working class women some access to abortion.

Right wingers weren’t appalled at abortion per se, but at the idea that working class women could have more control over their lives and sexuality.

Attacks on abortion are ideological. Restricting women’s control over their bodies restricts the roles they can play in society. Those at the top want women to be mothers and wives—and produce the next generation of workers.

The passing of the 1967 Abortion Act was a victory. It made abortion available to women on the NHS. There were some limits that exist to this day—women have to have the consent of two doctors to have an abortion, for example.

The act didn’t give abortion on demand. But it was an enormous leap forward.


Today, most people support a woman’s right to choose. They don’t want the clock turned back to a time when poor, desperate women were forced to the backstreets for

life-threatening abortions.

The bigots know this—and so cannot attack abortion outright. Instead, they try to chip away at our rights. Some raise questions about women’s reasons for having abortions. They try and divide women into “good” and “bad” in order to drive down rights for everyone.

But abortion is a right that all women should have, whatever the reason, and at all times.

Anti-abortionists use questionable science to undermine abortion. Some have said that abortion increases the risk of cancers—a claim thrown out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Others say that a foetus can survive outside the womb at 24 weeks’ gestation, and so women shouldn’t have abortions after that time.

They fail to mention that this is a tiny number of foetuses, most of which will have severe disabilities.

But in any case, whether or not a foetus can survive outside the womb shouldn’t determine whether women have the right to control their bodies.

Attacks on abortion assume that a foetus has the same rights as a pregnant woman. They say that, from the moment of conception, the foetus is a human being.

But the foetus is not a human being—it is a potential human being. And it is completely dependent on the woman it is growing inside to become a human being.

To equate a foetus and the life of a woman is to reduce her to an unwilling incubator.

Anti-abortionists, and even some who claim to be pro-choice, try to say that abortion is a moral question.

But whether women have the right to control their bodies is political.

It is working class women, and men, who lose out when abortion rights are attacked. That’s why trade unions have been key to campaigning for, and defending, abortion rights.

Women today have better access to contraception, work outside the home more, and can be more open about our sexuality.

Every attack on abortion rights is an attack on womens’ right to choose how to live their lives. We must resist them.

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Tue 13 Sep 2011, 18:23 BST
Issue No. 2269
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