This post was prompted by Joseph Kay's "bodies as a site of class struggle." As well as raising some interesting questions regarding the right to choose and class struggle - which I'll offer my own thoughts on here - it also prompted me to look more closely at the re-ignited abortion debate. I've been aware of it only peripherally due to my focus being elsewhere, but certainly what's happening there is very scary indeed.
I can't claim to offer any scientific data or analysis on the advances/retreats of womens’ rights in relation to wider social/economic conditions. However, I do broadly agree that what are known in the US as "culture wars" heat up in times of crisis and heightened class conflict. JK focuses on how "womens bodies are reduced to resources [...] as producers of children," and I certainly agree with this point. Especially on the point that "the disciplining of women as producers and carers of children has played a fundamental part in the rise of capitalism." But even if this weren't the case, I think the correlation would still exist.
I remember reading a quote from Noam Chomsky which summed up quite pointedly why this was the case.
To mobilize popular forces, the corporate world has been compelled to resort to what are called "cultural issues." But its troops are now prepared to fight the "culture war," as Pat Buchanan and others refer to the various forms of fanaticism they are seeking to engender. That process has opened a "culture gap," Fortune observes. The CEOs are generally liberal in cultural attitudes. They don't want their children to be forced to pray in schools or taught "creation science." They want their daughters to have opportunities. They not only tend to be pro-choice, but about 60% of CEOs are "adamantly pro-choice, agreeing with the statement that `a woman should be able to get an abortion if she wants one, no matter what the reason'." They do not want to live in a society and culture dominated by Christian fundamentalists, people who worship the Enola Gay or run around with assault rifles, or who debate subtle points about Beast 666 from the Book of Revelations and listen to Pat Robertson explaining how Presidents from Wilson to Bush may have been pawns of "a tightly knit cabal" run by Freemasons and "European bankers," who seek "a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer." But these are the sectors they are forced to turn to as a popular base for their assault on democracy and human rights.
In other words, culture war issues proliferate in line with increased assaults by the ruling class for much the same reason that rhetoric on immigration and race becomes more urgent and hysterical. Both serve as a diversion of anger, frustration and discontent into "safe" issues that don't threaten the domination of the ruling class. And, just as fascism gains in prominence and confidence from the media propaganda around migration, multiculturalism, etc, so religious zealots become bolder as the anti-abortion arguments grow louder in the mainstream.
Sometimes, this relationship is organic: the combination of widespread discontent or disenfranchisement and only the right (religious or far-) being around to offer an answer. Sometimes it is engineered: a case-in-point being the backing of big business and the liberal right for Mussolini's fascisti. In the case of abortion, it appears to be the latter, as the bellaciaoliberta blog opines.
A debate on abortion is in the process of flaring up. It is a debate which seems to be deliberately provoked by a few specific agents: the Conservative Health Secretary Andrew Lansley and backbench MP Nadine Dorries; the Daily Telegraph (and, inevitably, other elements of the reactionary press) and religious campaign groups such as 40 Days for Life and Abort 67. The suddenness with which the Telegraph’s investigations and the government’s raids have occurred (and the speed with which they are being formally processed), along with the coincidental appearance of anti-abortion protesters in many cities, strikes many (including us) as suspicious, and indicative of a coordinated agenda. It seems that, knowing that legislative efforts to reduce abortion rights will meet strong opposition, pragmatic attempts are being made to limit access to abortions in other ways; by creating an impression that abortion clinics are acting illegally, are putting profit ahead of patient care and are not to be trusted, and by getting doctors suspended and clinics shut down on legal grounds.
The technicalities of these charges can be elaborated elsewhere by other writers; we simply start with the understanding firstly that authorities do not investigate and prosecute all offences with equal enthusiasm, and so the choice to attack abortion providers (and to go looking for offences in places where no complaints have been received) indicates a certain political will; and secondly that in various instances in the past of people attempting to mount a full scale assault on something, they will often start by drawing attention to its most controversial aspects. Few people will object to doctors who are breaking the law being investigated, but from there the anti-abortion agenda can be more firmly established and broadened. This is why Lansley talks of doctors’ “professional and ethical responsibilities”. The emphasis is ours; he just dropped the word in casually along with the concern over professional standards.
This, I would argue, underlines "yes" as an answer to JK's initial question. The attacks on abortion (which, like JK, I oppose anyway as I am unapologetically pro-choice) are definitely a class struggle issue. More over, in bellaciaoliberta's opinion, they fall under the remit of a specific aspect of class struggle: anti-fascism. "An assault on women’s reproductive autonomy, either through legislation or more underhand tactics, is an authoritarian attempt to coerce us into certain social roles," and "one of the most constant elements of fascism as it has appeared in various places at various times is a focus on ‘the family’, which in practise translates to an attempt to coerce women into traditional maternal roles."
I can see the reasoning behind this, though I would argue that there are very good reasons that "‘anti-fascist’ activism continues its narrow obsession with ultranationalist street movements and political parties." The most important being that anti-fascism is by definition a purely defensive movement, opposition to those street movements and political parties allowing that more positive and pro-active activism can tackle issues of social and societal change.
Nevertheless, with the presence of anti-abortionists on the streets and in the faces of women seeking medical advice on abortion, there is a question of how to effectively oppose them. There are already effective and committed pro-choice campaigns, such as Brighton Pro-Choice, and where they exist they should be supported fully. Where they don't, I would hope that the escalation of the opposition campaign inspires their establishment.
On the question of zealots on the street, it is clear that despite bellaciaoliberta's call for anti-fascists to "meet this assault head on," militant tactics won't work. As satisfying as it might be, beating the shit out of these fanatics won't defeat their movement as it might a far-right one that thrives on a feeling of physical strength. Indeed, with all the stuff in the Bible about God's followers being forever shat upon by non-believers, it may only strengthen their resolve and fanaticism.
Nonetheless, it is easy for a campaign of intimidation to escalate, and the example of America tells us that it's not a long step towards murder and terrorism. Hopefully we'll never reach that point, but with the escalation we've already seen we can't discount the possibility. With it, comes the debate that needs to be had on how we might respond to that. After all, with abortion legal in the US yet still difficult to come by, it cannot be denied that God's culture warriors are also the state's foot soldiers.