For safe, affordable abortion on demand

Resistance: Young Socialist Alliance’s “World to Win” series aims to give voice to the ideas and demands of radical young people who are involved in the struggle to make the world a fairer and more just place. This week, Resistance National Co-Convener, Mia Sanders discusses the importance of the ongoing struggle for full reproductive rights.

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“But we’re equal now! Why do we need feminism?” This is the cry of middle class Australia, parroting the mainstream conservative political and media ideologues that the women’s liberation movement has been redundant since the suffragettes. The myth of Australia as a post-sexist society prevails under Minister for Women, Tony “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing” Abbott. Abbott declared the repeal of the carbon tax was his biggest achievement as Minister for Women in 2014. What he has unquestionably failed on is slowing the staggering rates of women killed by violence (the number rose as I was writing this article, from 59 to 62 deaths this year). Other failures are the closure of women’s refuges all over Australia, rampant attacks on sole parents, the criminalisation of sex work and abortion still being included in the criminal law in all states except the ACT, where it is legal with the approval of a medical doctor. Abortion remains a crime for women and doctors in both New South Wales and Queensland, unless a doctor believes a patient’s physical and/or mental health is in serious danger. In Victoria, it is legal up to 24 weeks gestation and afterwards only with two doctors’ approval. In South Australia, it is legal if two doctors agree that a woman’s physical and/or mental health is endangered by pregnancy, or for serious foetal abnormality. Unlawful abortion is a crime. In Tasmania, it is legal up to 16 weeks and after that only with the approval of two doctors. In Western Australia it is legal up to 20 weeks, with some restrictions particularly for under 16s, and becomes very restricted after 20 weeks. In the Northern Territory, it is legal up to 14 weeks, if two doctors agree that a patient’s physical and/or mental health is endangered by the pregnancy or for serious foetal abnormality, and up to 23 weeks in an emergency. The criminalisation of abortion in certain instances in most parts of the country indicates that the struggle has certainly not been won. In fact, feminists have claimed that these restrictions on the right to choose signal a war on women in Australia. The women’s movement has concerned itself with reproductive rights, specifically contraceptive and abortion rights, as a cornerstone of women’s liberation since the 1960s. Feminists argue that access to a safe and affordable abortion is a fundamental precondition to having control over one’s life, and should be an inalienable right. In this context, the governing of bodies, and reproduction, as a specifically gendered oppression, cannot be ignored. Liberal feminism uses an interesting rhetoric in its campaign for women’s rights — that women are “YOUR” mothers, “YOUR” sisters, “YOUR” wives, “YOUR” daughters. This line is concerning, not only because it frames women’s humanity in their relation to men and not as individual humans who deserve equal rights, but also because it just does not work. If gendered oppression could be resolved by individual soul-searching, why then are we still living in a reproductive prison? Socialists have been saying it for a while now. The struggle for full reproductive rights is a threat to capitalism, and is thus an inherently revolutionary demand. Capitalism relies on gendered oppression. The perpetuation of women as the carers and bearers of children, and the main labourers in the home means they are prevented from becoming a political force that can challenge their role as second class citizens, and the system which enslaves them. It also saves capitalism a load of money. A study released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2000 found “the value of unpaid work — 91% of it unpaid household work — was about $261 billion in 1997, equivalent to about 48% of Australia’s gross domestic product … Unpaid household work contributed $237 billion (or 91%) to the total value of unpaid work in 1997. Females accounted for 65% of the value of unpaid household work.” Statistics on the monetary value of unpaid labour in the home are no longer made available as a public resource. This helps explain why a majority of the ruling class still toils to keep gender roles strict, women imprisoned in the family, and to have reproductive rights governed by 19th century Crimes Acts or by other laws and rules governing reproductive rights. Forcing unwilling women into motherhood can enforce reliance on the family structure. As then-Prime Minister John Howard reminded us in 1996, the family is society’s “key welfare unit”. The conservative consensus still continues its attack on basic bodily autonomy today. On the question of abortion, Prime Minister — and Minister for Women — Tony Abbott has said: “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.” He has also said “the right of women to withhold sex ... needs to be moderated”. The crux of gendered oppression is a very narrow definition of women’s sexuality as confined to committed, heterosexual, monogamous relationships, which are most valid in the home and in a marriage. This feeds into queer oppression, the stigmatisation of sex workers, and a culture of slut-shaming and victim-blaming. Referring to women only in terms of their reproductive ability also contributes to the stigmatisation of transgender women who are unable to bear children, as well as women who are infertile, lesbians and queer women, and all women who simply choose not to have children. While the right-wing has waged a political offensive to impose moral importance on the family structure, they have also created an economic reliance via the gendered pay gap, which disproportionately affects the working class. This ensures that the rising costs of housing and other living expenses prices women and gender minorities out of independent living, forcing them into family life. It also works to perpetuate class divisions by enabling the rich to accumulate wealth and pass it on to their children, ensuring the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich. Restrictions on our reproductive freedoms and bodily autonomy by conservative governments are part of a deeply misogynist agenda, which is threatened by people making their own choices when it comes to reproduction. Capitalism needs control over people’s everyday lives to sustain itself, but more than that, it needs to normalise these restrictions. This is how they get away with telling us what to do with our bodies, how to have relationships and how to live our lives, all in the name of “social order”. Women, queers and gender minorities won’t be free until our bodies and reproductive freedoms are not policed by this bigoted Abbott government, or any repressive arm of the state. Socialists must concern themselves with reproductive rights, as a struggle to liberate all people, and a reclamation of our reproductive lives from the state. As Russian revolutionary Inessa Armand said: “If women’s liberation is unthinkable without communism, then communism is unthinkable without women’s liberation.”