Bodies on the frontline

Leaflet produced for a demonstration in 1986, against a proposed law to reduce access to abortion.

If David Alton is successful in his attempt to reduce the maximum time limit for abortions from 28 to 18 weeks it will mean misery for thousands of women. If this had been in effect as law in 1986, 5665 women would have been forced to give birth to unwonted children.

A doctor's right to choose
The medical profession is currently recommending a time limit of 24 weeks but even this would be a significant defeat. In any case the situation at the moment is hardly desirable in itself. The 1967 Abortion Act certainly doesn’t provide for free abortion on demand: a woman needs to get the permission of two doctors and even if this is forthcoming she may well end up having to pay out. In most areas abortions cannot be obtained on the National Health Service after the 10th week of pregnancy while in many places it is difficult to get one before this: in Birmingham, for instance, only 5% of abortions are carried out on the NHS.

Many feminists argue that restrictions on access to abortion represent an attempt by men to control women’s reproductivity. For a start this implies that all men have an interest in controlling women’s bodies, which we don’t accept: it is hard to see how a working class man whose wife has to give up her lob because she can’t get an abortion can be said to be gaining any benefit. Nor is it true that all women are equally affected by such restrictions. Whatever the situation as regards legal ‘rights’, rich women have always been able to obtain abortions (by paying large sums to private surgeons or going abroad) or if they have a child, to pay somebody else to look after it. For working class women on the other hand the choice is often between an operation they can ill afford (or before ’67 a dangerous back Street abortion) or struggling to bring up a child while holding down a job at the same time. This is why we see abortion (and reproduction generally) as a class issue.

Control over reproduction has got nothing to do with ‘womb envy. It is partly to do with the need of capitalism to manipulate the growth of population according to the needs of profit. In order to survive capitalism needs a steady supply of people to work in its factories, mines and offices. Making it difficult for women to obtain abortions is one way of ensuring that women are forced to continue to breed generation after generation of new workers. Of course in parts of the world where the poor are too numerous to be absorbed profitably into capitalist production - people who cost money to keep alive and might riot if this money isn’t made available - population control takes a different form: in parts of the so-called ‘Third World’, such as India, men and women hove been compulsorily sterilized in their thousands.

A more important reason for the new restrictions, however, is to strengthen the family by forcing women into the role of mother. The family is a strong form of social control as it forces people to maintain job stability etc. This is why the present government have introduced many measures to force people back into the family, including selling off council houses, housing benefit changes, the anti-gay clauses in the local government bill, changes in benefit rules for 16-18 year olds, and so on.

There are some measures which women can take now to retain on amount of control over their reproductivity. For instance some women’s groups use herbal medicine (which is outside the control of doctors) to induce periods. Another practical proposal would be to compile lists of doctors who are helpful, or are unhelpful, in authorizing abortions. Having this information would help women to obtain an abortion within the legal time limit.

The measures outlined above will however only be of help to a small number of women. Only a revolution will finally free oil our bodies from the tentacles of capital’s control and give us the chance to create a world based on our own needs and desires. In a communist society free contra­ception, abortion and socialized childcare will ensure that having children will be a real choice not a life sentence. We won’t get from here to there by wishful thinking though - we must make a start now by fighting against every attack the system launches against us.

Under attack
Whether Alton is successful or not, it is clear that anti-abortionists aim to stop all abortions, not just those after 18 weeks: in the past ‘Life’ (the Catholic anti-abortion agency) has even attempted to get the so-called ‘morning after pill’ banned. But Alton and co. are not the only problem - there are plenty of other people carrying out attacks that will force more and more women to act as baby breeding and rearing machines.

While the national ‘Fight the Alton Bill’ campaign invites Tory MP Teresa Gorman to speak at a press conference, government cuts cause family planning clinics to close (leading to more unwanted pregnancies) and funding for NHS abortion facilities to be reduced. Meanwhile, at the same time as they condemn Alton, Labour Party feminists, like Linda BeIlos are doing their own bit to push women into their allotted role as mothers by closing down childcare facilities and cutting thousands of jobs in local government - previously a major source of full time employment for women. All of these people are equally our enemies.

Fighting back
The campaign of petitions and letters to MPs advocated by F.A.B. won’t stop Alton or anything else. What is needed is mass working class action against the anti-abortionists - disruption of their meetings, occupations of their offices etc.

There have already been same encouraging actions against nursery and playgroup closures. In Camden in December, Under-Fives workers staged a one day strike while 200 parents, children and staff occupied the Social Services offices, blocked traffic near Kings Cross and took over the council chamber, refusing to let the council leader leave while they told him what they thought about cuts in childcare provision.

In the NHS, the recent strike by nurses at Manchester General Hospital is hopefully a sign of bigger struggles to come. But it is not just hospital workers who have been involved in action against the cuts. Just after Xmas patients helped staff prevent the closure of a ward in Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital by tying themselves to their beds. And in November council workers and Kerseley miners joined hospital workers in Coventry in a short strike against District Health Authority cuts.

Making the links to break our chains
The worldwide economic crisis is forcing the bosses everywhere to attack working class living standards by reducing wages, making workers redundant and cutting spending on health and social security. To be able to fight back effectively we need to co-ordinate our efforts as a class as a whole.

Making the necessary links has got nothing to do with getting the TUC to affiliate to FAB or with any such coalition of union and campaign bureaucrats - it means militants involved in different struggles coming together to discuss ways of uniting their efforts in a single anti-capitalist offensive. The potent­ial for developing such links was shown in the 1984/5 miner’s strike when, for example, women from mining areas participated in an occupation of South London Women’s Hospital.

A major barrier to unifying our struggles are the trade unions which by their very nature perpetuate the divisions between us. Even the supposedly ‘radical’ NUM sought to prevent the full involvement of non-members (including miners wives) in the strike by refusing to give them picketing expenses and attempting to channel their energies into a traditional supportive role as cooks and cheerleaders. In Spain dock strikes have been organized outside of the control of the unions from mass assemblies composed of all those involved - not just dockers, but other workers, the unemployed, school students etc.

By using tactics like these we can move beyond fighting (and usually losing) isolated battles against the Alton Bill here, a hospital closure there - to forge a real community of struggle against everything that impoverishes our lives today.

Produced by communists in London and anarchists in Berkshire.

This leaflet was produced for a demonstration against a proposed law to reduce access to abortion.The proposed law did not come into force.

The formulation "Making it difficult for women to obtain abortions is one way of ensuring that women are forced to continue to breed generation after generation of new workers." is functionalist, and almost certainly wrong in the case in point.

Taken from the Antagonism website.