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Why the right want to control women’s bodies

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After the appointment of anti-choice judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court, Sarah Bates looks at why opposing abortion is a defining issue for the right
Issue 2727
Why the right want to control women’s bodies
A protest against right wing attacks on abortion rights in Washington DC (Pic: Flickr/Hillel Steinberg)

Across the world, and particularly in the US, right wing zealots are determined to undermine a woman’s right to choose.

Anti-choice groups spend a huge amount of money on lobbying—and have even received public funding under coronavirus measures. In 2018, affiliates of US anti‑abortion groups contributed around $2.1 million to candidates standing in federal elections.

The American Family Association spent $874,000 trying to change public opinion between 2014-2017. 

It described abortion as “an evil running rampant” across the country and said it wanted to “promote the biblical ethic of decency in society.”

Why do the right exercise so much financial and political muscle to push forward an anti-choice agenda?

The right plays a “culture war” strategy, whether it’s around abortion, trans rights or Black Lives Matter. 

By focusing on issues such as a woman’s right to choose, it helps them to cut across class and corral working class people behind a right wing agenda. 

Opposition to abortion has become a defining issue and rallying point for sections of the US right and its social base. 

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This base includes many working class people who bear the brunt of the Republicans’ policies, designed to benefit a minority of corporations and the rich.

The right’s own claims about wanting to protect women and children don’t stack up. For instance. Republicans repeatedly push through wider attacks on reproductive rights, such as blocking access to contraception and the delivery of sex education. 

And they want to slash public services and welfare, making children’s and parent’s lives harder.

The politicians who use the issue of restricting abortion rights aren’t always on the religious right themselves, but opportunistically use the same strategy. They want to find “culture war” issues to paper over class differences. 

Donald Trump, for instance, used to be pro‑choice but shifted his position in order to expand his right wing base as he stood for president. 


The underlying reason for the right is their ideological commitment to “traditional families”—and women’s subordinate place within them. 

It’s through the family that children are cared for, socialised and educated. When children reach adulthood they are equipped with the necessary skills to become efficient workers—at little to no cost to the state or individual bosses. 

The specific form of the nuclear family is useful for the bosses who sit at the top of capitalist society because they get to reap years of women’s labour.

The idealisation of women as mothers, and the assumption of their caregiving role in society flows from this dynamic. 

The notion of the traditional mother often doesn’t fit with women’s lives today, but the ideological element of it is still deeply rooted across society. 

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Women who want abortions should encounter as little stigma as someone requiring any other routine medical procedure.

That they don’t, points to how society functions as a whole. In general women’s choices, particularly around their sexuality and their fertility, come under intense scrutiny.

Their bodies become battlegrounds, for every anti‑choice bigot to project their idea of the perfect family.

The Roe v Wade legal decision that gives US women some abortion rights is set to continue to be a key fight between those who want women to have choice over their bodies and those who don’t. 

Socialists should throw themselves into defending and extending reproductive rights as the bigots build their forces to peel them back.

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