England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Why we need a movement to defend abortion rights in Britain

Since the leaked Politico document on the Supreme Court’s intention to strike down Roe v Wade, the US has experienced a wave of struggle and protest. Workers and youth have taken to the streets to protest the barbaric threat of overturning the historical victory for reproductive rights.

Crucially, the capitalist and pro-corporate nature of the Democratic Party and Biden presidency has been brought into sharp focus. They have done nothing to protect the right to choose, reasserting the system’s failure to provide basic human rights, for women and nonbinary people, by codifying Roe v Wade into law. 

This is precisely why Socialist Alternative has been at the forefront of this movement in the US. Not only has SA called for a mass movement to expand student and worker strikes to massively expand access reproductive healthcare, but connected to the need to expose the rotten role of the Democrats and for a new party of the working class. The petition launched by Socialist Alternative – NoMoreExcuses – has so far reached over 1,000 signatures.

As the world looks on in disbelief, it is a poignant reminder for us internationally. This leaked decision has had a detrimental impact and poses a real threat to human rights across the world. In Britain anti-choice protests have ramped up from previous years due to reactionaries being emboldened and empowered by our so-called political leaders and mainstream media.

How do we fight back?

Mass feminist movements throughout history have taken a stand and won important battles. In 2018, we won the right to abortion in the south of Ireland after the mass campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment, with the Socialist Feminist campaign ROSA playing a key role. Similar struggles took place in 2019 South Korea, and in 2020 abortion was decriminalised across Mexico and Argentina as a product of a wave of women’s struggle. 

As we have done in the past, we must continue and escalate the fight, internationally, by organising solidarity protests to combat the resurgence of the outdated and oppressive ‘values’ of a ruling elite and religious right wing with misogyny at its core. 

This historic threat to women’s rights in the richest capitalist country on earth is a reminder that, under this system, all gains made by working-class people can face the threat of reversal and must be ferociously defended. This means it’s crucial to link the struggle for reproductive rights to the wider struggle for socialist change. This includes a fighting working-class approach to the liberation of LGBTQ+ people and all those facing brutal systematic oppression of racism and xenophobia.

The recent decision of the Tories to exclude trans people from the ‘ban’ on conversion therapy shows a clear message for all those seeking to build such a movement. A militant socialist feminist and working-class, involving action from the trade unions is imperative to push back against this reactionary agenda. 

Conflict over “buffer zones” 

In Scotland, 70% of reproductive health centres have been targeted by anti-choice protesters. Glasgow has seen rampant and recurring activity from fundamentalist religious right-wing at clinics. This includes at the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow, which provides sexual healthcare, with wildly inaccurate diagrams and images designed to guilt-trip and frighten people out of receiving sexual and/or reproductive healthcare.

At one clinic, these groups were reported to have shouted “mummy” at women seeking treatment in an outrageous act of emotional abuse and manipulation of those in need of basic health services. 

In response, from MPs and MSPs there has been talk of ‘buffer zones’ being implemented, essentially excluding these groups from targeting abortion clinics up close, with enforced distances. 

Many of those who use these services will no doubt be in favour of any measures that could help to push back the attempted advance of the religious right. But a discussion among feminists will be needed on whether or not such ‘zones’ will provide a genuine solution. 

Notwithstanding how intimidation of those using reproductive health clinics could easily continue in such cases (albeit with a certain ‘distance’), there are genuine questions to be asked about whether we can trust the Police to truly protect us.

We have seen time and time again that police do not protect the most marginalised people in society. Women, trans people and non-binary people, especially those of colour, are met with violence and repression on a regular basis by police. 

Last year’s Kill The Bill protests and vigils for Sarah Everard in the wake of her brutal murder (commited by a serving off-duty officer) were immobilized with brute force. We know the state does not protect working class interests and we deserve to seek safe and accessible healthcare, to live with dignity and respect. 

Allowing these dogmatic protests within any radius of hospitals/clinics with police presence and protection will be problematic for those who are heavily oppressed by our governments. Allowing the continued intimidation and abuse hurled at vulnerable people in a time of immense stress, even to a lower extent, will not be enough to truly counter right-wing hysteria.

What must be done now? 

We must act now to do what is necessary to defend our basic reproductive rights. This is why all organisations that have the power to mobilise – trade unions, women’s and trans rights campaigns and all others in support should begin to make preparations for solidarity demonstrations in solidarity with the protests in the US and beyond. This includes clear displays of solidarity on the June 18 National Demonstration called by the Trades Union Congress.

This could not only send a clear message to right-wing bigots in Britain that we won’t allow the clock to be pushed back, but also to fight for an emergency programme against privatisation and outsourcing in the NHS. 

Our struggles may look different, but all come from the same exploitative core – capitalism. We can start organising, unionising our workplaces, and showing up in our communities to knock backward ideologies of this Tory government.

We cannot leave capitalist governments and big business to choose how we access healthcare and leave us without bodily autonomy. The working class and poor suffer while the rich will continue to be able to access necessary healthcare services.

These issues transcend healthcare to the poisonous system that profits from our collective suffering and division. Solidarity to those struggling for bodily autonomy and human rights! United, the working class will never be defeated!

Take back control of our bodies! Fight back with socialist feminism! 

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