Resolution on Abortion Rights

Adopted by the 34th National Convention of the Socialist Labor Party of America, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 5-10, 1981

After decades of struggle, the right of women to abortion received partial legal recognition in 1973 when a U.S. Supreme Court ruling swept away many then existing restrictions on abortion.

Now, however, right-wing and misnamed "pro-life" forces are on the verge of denying women the right to legal and medically safe abortions. This reactionary counterattack began the same year, in response to this ruling, with a proposal for a deceptively named Human Life Amendment (HLA) to the United States Constitution.

The version of the HLA currently before Congress would recriminalize abortion by declaring that from the moment of conception the fetus is a person with full legal rights. If approved, the HLA could subject women and physicians involved in abortions to criminal prosecution and even ban certain forms of birth control.

The election of Ronald Reagan and the increasingly reactionary political mood of the ruling class have given additional impetus to the anti-abortion movement. Because ratification of the HLA would be an extremely lengthy process, reactionaries in Congress have introduced a Human Life Bill that would have the same impact as the HLA but require only a simple majority for enactment.

Anti-abortionists have also pressed ahead with other restrictive and punitive measures. Congress recently voted to restrict federal funding of abortion to cases in which the woman's life is in danger. This action strengthened the notorious Hyde Amendment, which has already reduced federally funded abortions by almost 99 percent since 1976, and moves one step closer toward totally banning abortion. Numerous state and local restrictions also have been enacted, including "informal consent" measures which subject women seeking abortions to anti-abortionist propaganda. Fanatical anti-abortionists have even resorted to fire-bombing abortion clinics and harassing their staffs and patients.

Anti-Abortionists Ignore Reality

But banning abortion would change none of the conditions that force millions of women to seek abortions. It would do nothing to eliminate the poverty that makes child rearing an economic consideration. It would not improve access to contraception or make it safer or more effective. It would do nothing to curb unwanted pregnancies for whatever reason.

As a result, a new ban on abortion would leave many working-class women with no alternative except to subject themselves to the dangers of unsafe, illegal abortions. It would simply recreate the conditions prevailing before the 1973 Supreme Court ruling: medically safe, albeit illegal abortions for the rich, and back-alley butchery for poor women. Before the liberalization of abortion laws, there were an estimated one million illegal abortions each year—with 5,000 to 6,000 deaths and countless injuries. A ban on abortion would mean only a return to this mass butchery.

Many opponents of abortion simply ignore these realities. Rather than addressing the concrete economic and social conditions working-class women face under capitalism, they engage in an abstract debate over the so-called "moral" issues concerning the point of origin of human life. This is based upon totally unscientific, religious or philosophical premises. Such a discussion can only serve to sidetrack struggles against the inhuman conditions imposed by capitalism and to divert workers from the need to challenge the overall exploitation and class division of capitalism. This reactionary abstract approach to a concrete problem has the potential to divide the working class along sexual lines, to divide even female workers against each other, while at the same time reinforcing sexism.

Moreover, the anti-abortion movement is in fact dominated and financed by right-wing forces. The "pro-life" posturing of these right-wing opponents of abortion is sheer hypocrisy. They also support such "pro-life" measures as the death penalty, imperialist war, and a general cutback of government social services, occupational safety and health regulations, pollution controls, etc., that would condemn millions of workers to a life of misery and premature death.

Abortion and Class Struggle

For the right, opposition to abortion is a key part of its program for promoting the traditional "morality" that serves as an ideological prop for decadent capitalism. The struggle for abortion rights and reproductive freedom is an integral part of the efforts of women to free themselves from the sexist oppression bred by capitalist society—to free themselves from the traditional role of rearing children and housework and from traditional women's jobs which allow capitalists to reap huge profits from the superexploitation of cheap female labor.

However, the struggle for abortion rights and women's liberation must be part of a more comprehensive, revolutionary struggle that challenges the capitalist system itself. For those goals cannot be attained and secured within the confines of a capitalist system that is based on exploitation and dependent for its very survival on keeping the working class divided against itself.

Moreover, the effort to restrict abortion rights reflects the ominous possibilities for repression inherent in capitalism. The steady erosion of the abortion rights supposedly guaranteed by the 1973 Supreme Court decision is evidence that all democratic rights are tenuous under capitalism. Indeed, a capitalist state that arrogates to itself control over such a basic individual right as the decision to reproduce will have few qualms about crushing other democratic rights as well.

The Socialist Labor Party supports abortion rights. The right to abortion is one of the few ways in which women can effectively exercise control over their lives and start to break out of the traditional roles assigned them. At the same time, Socialists recognize the limitations of the struggle for abortion rights unless it is joined to the class struggle for socialism. Only when working-class men and women join in a classconscious movement to destroy capitalism and to establish a socialist society that will improve education and family planning, develop better and safer methods of contraception, eliminate poverty, ignorance and repressive sexual moralities, and provide adequate day care facilities will the choice to have or not to have children become a truly free human decision, uncompromised by economic considerations or legal restrictions.

Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • •

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