Freedom has to mean we control our own bodies

May 30, 2019

The struggle for women’s right to control our own bodies tells us something about where the struggle for Women’s Liberation in the U.S. is at this moment.  We are aware of the critique of feminists who prioritize abortion rights over all other struggles, including the struggle for the right to have children in a safe, healthy, and loving environment.  This is an important critique and part of the truth of it is that if pregnancy and childbirth are forced, then it is impossible for the right to have children in such a liberatory atmosphere to be realized because there is no liberatory atmosphere.  All people must have control over their own bodies for freedom to come anywhere near being a reality.  We are getting further and further away from that possibility.

Participants at demonstration in Chicago against abortion bans on May 20, 2019. Photo: Terry Moon for News & Letters.

The way Republicans are working to make abortion illegal is to make a fetus a full human being and make women into baby-making things.  That is explicit in the language used in the new Alabama bill that makes all abortions illegal, outlawing the procedure once a fertilized egg is “in utero.”  “In utero,” not “implanted in a woman’s womb.”  The only exception is if there is a “serious health risk” “to the unborn child’s mother.”  Here woman is a “child’s mother.”  She is not a singular person, not a human being who happens to be pregnant.  The child is the human being, the woman is the “vessel,” as one Congressman said, for the “child,” that is, the purposefully misnamed fetus.

The intent is for this bill to be the one the U.S. Supreme Court uses to overturn Roe v. Wade.  That’s why there are no exceptions for rape or incest because the question the bill’s sponsor wants the Supreme Court to decide is: “‘Is the baby in the womb a person?’ Any amendment would contradict that point.”  Again, a “baby” is in a “womb,” without a thought or care that the womb is actually a part of a woman who, one would hope, most people recognize as an actual human being.  This puts the U.S. in the same place Ireland was when those running a hospital murdered Savita Halappanavar, who at 31 years of age died from septicemia, an infection she got after a partial miscarriage, and who was denied an abortion while the hospital waited for the fetus to die first.  Who is going to decide if the risk to the woman is “serious” enough to warrant an abortion, especially if the doctor who does it can face a 99-year prison sentence?

What Donald Trump’s supporters want is for the U.S. to be like El Salvador or worse, where women are jailed for miscarriages as well as abortions.  They are fanatics that want to give what is clearly not a person—a group of cells that has no brain or heart—every human right while stripping those rights from women.  They are close to getting what they want, despite the fact that most people in the U.S. want abortion to be legal.  But fanatics don’t care about that, and Trump only cares about gorging his evangelical base with every morsel of misogynist, anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-human, racist scrap of poisonous politics, feeding them what they want in hopes they will excrete four more years for him to perfect his fascist view of the future.


There are a lot of illusions in the women’s movement and elsewhere about what will happen when Roe v. Wade is overturned.  Some think it won’t be—it will be and, in many ways, already has been; others think that women will be able to self-abort, or that groups of women will organize to make sure that the “abortion pills,” mifepristone and misoprostol, will be available enough so that they can be gotten to women who need abortions.  They assume that these pills will remain as easy to get as they are now—they won’t—and they are not all that easy to get even now.  They assume that they will be able to distribute them to those in need—they won’t.

Even now, when abortion is theoretically legal in every state, self-abortion is illegal in six or seven; women are having children they did not want, women are being jailed for self-aborting, for having miscarriages that they can’t prove are not abortions; for taking half a valium or postponing a cesarean.  Recently a 16-year-old girl and her 16-year-old boyfriend were charged with attempted murder for leaving their newborn on top of a garbage can in their alley in Chicago.  This would never have happened if abortion and birth control were available, affordable, not considered a sin, shameful, horrible, dangerous, etc., etc.  It would not have happened if Illinois did not have a parental consent law that forces pregnant girls to get permission from a parent to have an abortion.  They are 16 and their lives are ruined.  Things are not going to get better or be “ok.”  It’s going to be a tragedy.  It already is.


Participant at demonstration in Chicago against abortion bans on May 20, 2019. Photo: Terry Moon for News & Letters.

So where is the left in all of this?  The women’s movement is advanced enough that now almost all the left does give lip service to the question of women’s control of our bodies.  They learned the language the women’s movement has taught them.  They send some of their women members to abortion rights demonstrations and some of those women come because they too want to control their own bodies.  But abortion rights are something the left had to be brought to over decades and it still is not up there with doing something about U.S. imperialism, even though there is the U.S. imperialism of the global gag rule that was expanded by Trump, and is guaranteed to kill even more women.

Many of these same leftists who pretend to care about abortion rights support those like Vladimir Putin, the rulers of Iran, and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who runs a country where after the revolution they retained one of the most destructive abortion laws in the world. At best, most of the left treat abortion rights as an opportunity to recruit women to their vanguard groups so women can come to understand that first we have to get rid of capitalism and then we’ll take care of women’s rights.


There’s a lot of talk about socialism these days, but who (besides us) is saying that it must mean that women have control of their own bodies?  Socialism isn’t trading one ruler for a better one or making some reforms to capitalism.  Socialism means a completely different society, one where people do have control of our bodies.  It is one where workers have control over the process of labor, of what they actually do with their bodies at work, in the factory, in the office, in the home.  It is one where Blacks and other people of color can walk the streets, drive cars, and live their lives feeling safe in their skins.  The left would do well to remember that one of Karl Marx’s most devastating critiques was that under capitalism “social relations…appear as what they are…as material relations between persons and social relations between things” (Capital, Chapter 1, p. 166).  That is why to be successful, revolutions must be total from the start, explicitly so, because they must be so deep and thorough that all human relationships are transformed and have the potential to actually become human.

–Terry Moon, May 30, 2019

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