Reproductive Rights

I was wrong to think the left could compromise on abortion

September 8, 2021

by Matt Stannard

I used to believe that when we overcame capitalism and scarcity, and liberated labor from exploitation, that a socialist society could then have a discussion about abortion, about extending the circle of moral consideration outward to include the unborn entity.

I was wrong and I am sorry for anyone who heard me say that and rightly felt that I was trivializing the autonomy of those who can become pregnant.

Abortion and access to abortion will always be not only necessary, but a positive good. It’s part of an ethic of life, not a culture of death.

It’s true that pro-choice doesn’t logically mean pro-abortion. It’s also true that it’s good to be pro-abortion. We should support, not just tolerate, medical procedures that improve (sometimes save) people’s lives. If you call abortion “regrettable,” “tragic,” “a necessary evil,” or whatnot, you’re agreeing with the metaphysics of the anti-choice argument: that a being with some kind of moral standing is being terminated. That’s not only false–it concedes just enough to the other side to empower their underlying (false) assumption.

At one time it seemed to some of us on the left that there was room for a left-feminist critique of abortion and shared speculation around the mysteries of life. In the 60s and 70s and even into the 80s there were whole-life movements that included rejecting abortion, war, nuclear weapons, and capital punishment.

But now we know that it’s impossible to compromise with anti-choice forces on anything. They’d rather women die. And, we must also remember –and never fail to articulate– that forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term against their will is slavery. It seems to me that qualifying that by saying abortion is undesirable rhetorically chips away at the autonomy of those who can become pregnant.

Frankly I would love to see the slogan “against abortion? Don’t have one” become “against abortion? You’re wrong and your position threatens human autonomy.”

I was wrong and I’m sorry.

I’ll end this with a long quote from Democratic Socialist of America’s socialist-feminist statement on reproductive rights from 2017, keeping in mind that four years later we’re fighting for more than just overturning Hyde. Now the stakes are Roe itself, and the relationship between capitalist authoritarianism, patriarchy and white supremacy has never been more visible in our lifetimes.

. . . capitalism is built upon male supremacy and white supremacy. One of the most critical feminist issues is reproductive justice, including not just birth control and abortion but also childbearing and childrearing. DSA also understands that abortion access is an economic issue, that poor and working-class people and people of color in particular experience limited access to reproductive healthcare, from the very limited access to care for rural patients to mandatory waiting periods that force people to lose work and stay in a costly hotel, to the high cost of the care itself. As part of our support for reproductive justice, DSA believes that people should have the right to make decisions for their own bodies that shape their reproductive destiny. In terms of abortion, that means women, gender nonconforming people and trans men who may become pregnant should have the right to decide whether to terminate or continue a pregnancy, as well as the resources to support that choice. As part of our efforts to achieve reproductive justice, DSA has consistently called for Congress to overturn the 1976 Hyde Amendment that bans Medicaid funds being used for abortions.

Photo: Reproductive rights rally in Illinois, May 2019. By Charles Edward Miller