Abortion rights debate in US belies deep class contradictions
Published: May 13, 2022 02:56 PM
A demonstrator holds up a coat hanger, a symbol of the reproductive rights movement, and a sign reads Never Again as pro-choice protesters gather in large numbers in front of the federal building to defend abortion rights in San Francisco on May 3, 2022. Photo: AFP

A demonstrator holds up a coat hanger, a symbol of the reproductive rights movement, and a sign reads "Never Again" as pro-choice protesters gather in large numbers in front of the federal building to defend abortion rights in San Francisco on May 3, 2022. Photo: AFP

A draft opinion by the US Supreme Court that overturns the country's cornerstone abortion rights precedents was leaked by Politico on May 5, stirring up massive controversy. Writing for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito said in his majority opinion that the precedent outlined in Roe vs Wade "was egregiously wrong from the start" and that both Roe and Casey "must be overruled." 

"It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives," Alito wrote. 

Confirmed as real by the Court itself, if implemented this decision would mean that states would be able to determine their own abortion laws - meaning the majority of states, controlled by conservatives, will likely outlaw its practice and maybe even impose criminal punishments for administering or receiving abortion. Thirteen states already have "trigger laws" that will immediately make abortions illegal should Roe be overturned, as it appears will be the case. 

This decision by the Supreme Court is an unequivocal violation of human rights and is truly disturbing in that it turns motherhood into even more of a burden. Notably, the US lacks universal health care, paid maternity leave, universal or subsidized child care and also has a relatively high maternity mortality rate for an industrialized country. 

On reproductive rights, these are the more fundamental contradictions in American society. Indeed, religious zealots are highly mobilized in favor of the "pro-life" position, for example, outlawing or strictly limiting access to abortions - but the more important point of why the pregnant are being exploited is rooted in the contradictions of American capitalism. 

Over the past century, childbearing in America has become less desirable due to financial constraints. The country's industrialization and urbanization have created conditions that are no longer conducive to raising children as opposed to the agrarian past. Correspondingly, the birth rate in America has sharply declined. 

Meanwhile, the state is unwilling or unable to implement social programs, like paid leave or universal health care that would make having children more feasible. This creates a situation where the population is aging and, especially now in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a significant amount of the workforce is more and more disabled - even permanently. This means fewer workers and consumers. 

This is a huge obstacle for modern capitalism in America and is why the abortion issue is so important; it is essentially exploiting unpaid reproductive labor to solve what amounts to an economic issue. 

If the issue truly was based on morality (saving lives), as conservatives argue, then they would be simultaneously pursuing policies that promote safe sex and birth control or assist mothers with the expenses of raising a child. But conservatives are undermining these too, showing that it is more about controlling the reproductive means of production, for example, women's bodies.

There is a distinct class divide at play too. Since abortion will still be accessible in virtually the entire world, if Roe is overturned, the wealthy will still maintain the ability to control their reproduction. This is how things worked before Roe when many states had abortion prohibitions; rich women simply went abroad as they had the means to do so. 

From this outlook, it's obvious that abortion is not some sort of isolated culture war issue but an important theater in America's class war. It is another reflection of how deeply unequal the country is. Motherhood in 21st century US is becoming more and more of a blight for women rather than something beautiful given the myriad expenses and uncompensated labor associated with raising a child. 

Even if this issue may be dressed up as a moralistic one that belies more concrete material conditions, one cannot help but feel sincere moral outrage. Women must be entitled to control over what happens to and in their bodies. In my opinion, there is nothing - no moral position whatsoever - that can deny a woman autonomy over her own body. Likewise, the fact that motherhood is so difficult and that Americans lack the social programs necessary to sustain biological reproduction demonstrates without a doubt that American society is in terminal decline. 

The author is a Prague-based US journalist, columnist and political commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn