The May 2 leak of a draft Supreme Court ruling signed by Justice Samuel Alito overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision has set off a debate across the country. The leak was met with a hysterical response from the liberal media, full of misinformation aimed at shoring up plummeting support for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections.
If this or a similar decision is reached, the discussion and debate it will open over how to best advance the interests of working-class women and their families must be joined. This discussion was shut off in 1973 before millions had been convinced that abortion was needed as just one part of family planning and for defending the rights of women. Ever since, those seeking to defend women’s legal access to abortion have been shackled by the Roe ruling. It was a blow to the fight for women’s emancipation. Focusing on trying to defend it will only further muddy the real questions.
It is useful to read Alito’s draft. It’s far from being a right-wing rant, as liberals suggest. Alito quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s judgment saying Roe v. Wade “halted a political process that was moving in a reform direction and thereby, I believed, prolonged divisiveness and deferred stable settlement of the issue.”
The Roe decision was an example of a majority of politically motivated judges concocting a ruling based neither on the Constitution nor on an already accomplished and overwhelming shift in public opinion. This guaranteed ongoing combat rather than settling anything.
Assault on workers’ families grows
For working people, access to abortion cannot be addressed separately from the growing pressures tearing at our families. It’s bound up with finding ways to resist the broader impact of the capitalist crisis on workers’ lives, which is making it harder and harder to start a family, and placing heavier burdens on them.
That crisis is accelerating after years of declining real wages; unaffordable housing and child care; longer hours, forced overtime and draining work schedules that cripple family life; and the intolerable weight of mounting household debts. All of this is exacerbated by the biggest price rises in 40 years.
Some 4 million workers remain in part-time jobs because they can’t get full-time work, and 5.9 million want a job but are not counted as unemployed because they’ve given up looking for work. The labor force participation rate has plunged more sharply for women than men. Millions of women were forced to stop working during the pandemic because of lack of child care and shuttered schools. Today, 1 million fewer women are in the workforce than in 2019.
Fighting to change these conditions is crucial to advancing women’s social and economic equality. They undermine women’s choices about when and whether to bear children; warp decisions about how many to have; and intensify pressures on workers with families.
These questions can’t be addressed without a fighting program to win broader access to affordable family health care, child care, housing, jobs, contraception, easily accessible adoption and more. This fight is the road to win an unchallengeable majority to include abortion in all public family planning programs.
Under capitalism, the family is where workers go for protection. It’s where the elderly and infirm are cared for and our children are raised and begin learning. It’s where young workers all too often have to return when bosses throw us out of work. Children, the elderly and workers who are sick or disabled have no value for the capitalist class. Their drive for profits is carried out with utter disregard for the workers who create their wealth.
‘Safe, legal and rare’
In 1992 President Bill Clinton said that his goal was to make abortion “safe, legal and rare.” But that was a sham. The capitalist class he defends is driven to profit off the backs of working people, wreaking havoc on our lives. They have no road to providing the kind of conditions in which the decision to have an abortion could become rare. For that goal to be real, different social relations need to exist, something that is possible if the working class — the only class capable of defending human life — takes political power into its own hands.
While no one knows how the Supreme Court will end up ruling on this case, the debate will continue. Today some 13 states have “trigger laws” that would restrict abortion if the court overturns Roe. Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota would ban most abortions immediately, with an exception if the life or health of the woman is endangered.
Fourteen other states would decriminalize abortion, but restrict it to the first 22 weeks of pregnancy. These “progressive” states incorporate Roe’s medical criteria for legalization, not women’s right to equal protection of law under the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. This means making “viability” of growing embryos the criteria to set time limits on legal abortion.
But no fetus is “viable” outside the womb without care and support from a mother and her family.
By basing its judgment on these shifting medical grounds, the 1973 decision made it easier for opponents of women’s rights to claim the mantle of being defenders of the “right to life.” Their claims are a fraud. The capitalist rulers’ dog-eat-dog system rests on an endless series of wars, deaths and maimings of workers on the job, racism and perpetuating the oppression of women. It is the working class, and its struggle to liberate humanity from these ills, that is the defender of life.
By 2017 there were no facilities where women could get abortion in 89% of all U.S. counties, the result of the unsettled debate and the debilitating framework of the Roe v. Wade decision.
Democrats and the middle-class left insist Alito’s decision will trigger a flood of assaults on gay rights and other conquests working people have a stake in defending. Overruling Roe threatens “the right to same-sex intimacy and marriage, to interracial marriage and to use contraception,” Joe Biden’s Justice Department claimed in a court brief.
But Alito’s leaked draft plainly states the opposite: “To ensure our decision is not misunderstood or mischaracterized, we emphasize that … nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.”
The “cancel culture” left has already made it clear they oppose a debate on these issues, and intend to shut down discussion and do damage to any who disagree with them by any means necessary. The Madison office of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action was hit with an arson attack May 8. “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either,” was spray painted on their wall.
Protesters also showed up outside the houses where the families of Alito, and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and John Roberts, who didn’t sign on to Alito’s draft, live. More such attacks are to be expected.
Democrats complement these attacks with calls for opponents of Alito’s draft to get them elected. They pledge to change the character of the Supreme Court to make it a more “progressive” institution, adopting rulings that should be the province of Congress and the states.
A class-struggle road forward
But real progress for working people and our rights never comes from the courts. It is always the product of gigantic class struggles, which transform people, public opinion and open the door to human progress.
Working people should view the debate over the draft ruling as a crucial opportunity to join discussion about the working-class road forward that is needed for women and for our families.
“Workers should look to our own capacities to act together to defend ourselves. That requires organizing independently of the bosses and their Democratic and Republican parties,” Joanne Kuniansky, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Congress in New Jersey, told the Militant. “Workers need to form our own political party, a labor party, to lead the fight for women’s emancipation and to replace capitalist rule with a workers and farmers government.”