Workshop Talks: Don’t let germs and capitalists win

May 1, 2017

From the May-June 2017 issue of News & Letters

by Htun Lin

President Donald Trump announced he would be defunding clinics internationally that include discussion of hanger-buttonabortion as part of reproductive health. This global gag rule will kill women. Also deadly to women is a renewed effort by Republicans to gut or completely eliminate the U.S. family planning program Title X, which prevents a million unplanned pregnancies a year, and defund the Violence Against Women Act, including services for survivors of sexual violence.


Women also die from business as usual, from budget cuts or cost controls which transform an essential life-giving human activity like healthcare into a commodity. The promise to replace the Affordable Care Act with Trumpcare, or Ryancare, would cause eight million women to lose insurance coverage. Two thirds of them are women of color. Women on Medicaid would suffer the most (especially in red states whose governors refuse expansion of Medicaid funding for ideological reasons).

Obamacare also, in the name of cost controls, does not cover everyone or guarantee affordable healthcare to all. This was Obama’s alternative to single-payer universal healthcare.

Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois asked on the floor of Congress, “Why should I, as a man who can’t get pregnant, be forced to pay for a woman’s prenatal or maternity care?” 

Nancy Metcalf, insurance expert and columnist, explained to the Washington Post: “Health insurance, like all insurance, works by pooling risks. The healthy subsidize the sick, who could be somebody else this year and you next year. Those risks include any kind of healthcare a person might need from birth to death—prenatal care through hospice. No individual is likely to need all of it, but we will all need some of it eventually.

“So, as a middle-aged childless man you resent having to pay for maternity care or kids’ dental care….Once you start down that road, it’s hard to know where to stop. If you slice and dice risks, eventually you don’t have a risk pool at all, and the whole idea of insurance falls apart.”


What insures the health of society is universal healthcare.  In the age of ominous spread of potentially devastating epidemics like bird flu, tuberculosis, AIDS, Zika and Ebola—an injury to one is an injury to all. Literally.

One infectious individual who is not identified, located, and cared for could spread disease and risk the health of all.  That’s why healthcare access must be extended to all, regardless of citizenship, immigrant or financial status.


Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Healthcare is at its core a fundamentally social human activity to meet an essential human need. It is a social relation, not a product. The old and infirm or infants, those not strong enough to be vaccinated, are afforded protection by others taking on the responsibility of vaccination, thus affording herd immunity to us all.


Rep. Shimkus objects to valuing prenatal and maternity care, even in the face of ample scientific evidence that he would not have been born were it not for the hard labor of the maternity shop-floor. His sorry question goes to the heart of what Karl Marx pointed out, that the most fundamental human relationship, whether under capitalism, in pre-capitalist societies or post-capitalism, is the man/woman relationship.

Unless and until our attitude to this essential question is confronted, we will not be ready to address the question of solidarity sorely needed not only with respect to labor but also the current refugee crisis.  The fundamental barrier to overcome in all these spheres is alienation, especially self-alienation within the confines of alienated labor under capitalism.

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