California referendum is blow to women’s emancipation

By Betsey Stone
November 14, 2022

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Socialist Workers Party has a long history of backing decriminalization of abortion, a part of the broader battle to advance the rights, interests and fighting capacity of women and working people as a whole. But Proposition 1, an amendment to the California Constitution its Democratic Party authors and backers claim will “enshrine” the right to abortion in law forever, is an obstacle to this fight. The SWP urges you to vote “No.”

Democrats here have made abortion the central issue in their campaign, using it as a vote-getting ploy. In the process they are seeking to close down political space working people sorely need today.

They claim that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade struck down a woman’s right to choose. But Dobbs didn’t ban a single abortion. In accordance with the U.S. Constitution, the high court turned the issue over to the people and their state representatives. It is in the interest of working people to oppose legislation by the courts, as was the case with Roe v. Wade.

Abortion remains legal in most of the states with the largest populations, like California, and is being fought out, state by state, in others. In Kansas, a majority voted down a state referendum aimed at placing greater limits on the legality of abortion.

Nor is the Dobbs decision leading toward the banning of same sex marriage, as Democrats predicted. Polls show a solid 70% of the population support keeping it legal.

We’re told the amendment is needed to prevent the issue ever being revisited again. Using a referendum to change the constitution in this way is a blow to our rights. If the anti-abortion referendum in Kansas had been passed, which like the referendum in California aimed to change the state constitution, it would have been a similar blow. Making it harder for working people to try to take on laws they oppose by “enshrining” them in the state constitution is the opposite of what’s needed. It closes down room to debate and discuss the road forward for women and working people.

The Democrats’ central campaign nationwide is an assault on the millions of working people President Joseph Biden has dubbed “MAGA Republicans” and labeled “semi-fascists.” Behind this is the belief that workers they don’t agree with must be prevented from having an influence on politics.

Supporters of Proposition 1 reinforce the reactionary scare campaign targeting working people with the argument that even though abortion is legal in California we need the amendment because our rights are in imminent danger of being  “stripped away.”

Deepening social crisis today

Democrats say openly they are using the abortion issue to win votes. They are trying to divert attention from inflation that has skyrocketed under the Biden administration, along with the many economic and social problems confronting workers today. Increasing numbers cannot afford the basics of rent, medical care and food. It’s harder for working people to maintain a family, or even start one, with a record number of young people still living with parents. The U.S. birth rate is going down. Suicides and overdoses are going up.

Draconian work schedules imposed by the bosses make needed family time impossible. All this, including the rising costs of child care, medical care and elder care hit working-class women especially hard.

By focusing on abortion, the Democrats imply that it is a solution to these problems. When Stacey Abrams, Democratic Party candidate for governor of Georgia, was asked how to control inflation, she pointed to abortion as an answer — cutting short a pregnancy is the way to cut costs!

Masses of working people reject this. Union struggles today, like the battle being waged by rail workers across the country, are focused on winning wages that can support a family and hours that allow for family life. There is no road to women’s emancipation, or for Black liberation, separate and apart from working-class struggles against capitalist oppression and exploitation. This includes addressing the challenges and responsibilities that fall overwhelmingly on women as the bearers and nurturers of new life.

As Frederick Engels, a founder of the communist movement, said in 1885, “True equality between men and women can become a reality only when the exploitation of both by capital has been abolished, and private work in the home has been transformed into a public industry.”

A working-class road forward

This means fighting for a government-funded public works program to create jobs to build child care centers, housing and other things workers need. It means fighting for publicly financed cradle-to-grave medical care.

We need to form our own party, a labor party based on our unions, that can chart a course to take political power. It is along this road that we can advance the fight for women’s freedom from all the political obstacles to full and equal participation in social and economic life.

Whether or not to have an abortion is a medical decision that should be in the hands of the woman without veto from anyone else. We need contraception that is safe and affordable. We should also reject the push to use abortion as a means of contraception.

At issue with abortion is a potential human life. It is a fallback, something needed when other things fail. Contrary to it being a right to be “enshrined,” as supporters of the amendment advocate, we need to fight to make abortion rarer by changing the social conditions that have led to its widespread use.

We should look to the example of the Cuban Revolution when in 1959 the masses of Cuban workers and farmers defeated a U.S.-backed dictator and overturned capitalist rule. Women in large numbers joined in the revolution, creating and building the Federation of Cuban Women. Millions of women became a mighty force in transforming the country to the benefit of the masses of workers and toilers in the countryside.

The Cubans tried to act on Engels’ advice. They mobilized to put people and resources into child care, elder care, school and workplace lunch and afterschool programs, all things directed at overcoming the inequality women face because the burdens of housework and family care fall overwhelmingly on them. And they decriminalized abortion.

It is an example worth serious study of how progress toward the full emancipation of women requires ending the rule of the capitalists who are responsible for our oppression today.