Stopping the abortion bans is a working-class fight—Here’s why
Anne-Myriam Adrien, 25, of Washington, looks at the Supreme Court as she joins in a protest against abortion bans, May 21, 2019. | Jacquelyn Martin / AP

There is an attack underway. A full-fledged assault on the rights of working people is happening in the United States of America. It is being spearheaded by a White House administration that has emboldened those who adhere to right-wing ideology and employ bigoted rhetoric in their effort to take away rights that have been fought for by working-class people and their allies. The target of this assault? Reproductive freedom.

The various abortion bans now sweeping the nation—bills that prohibit terminating a pregnancy once a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected—are part of a larger strategic plan to demoralize and continue the subjugation of working people. Chief on the hit list for these laws are women of color, who as a group, are some of the hardest fighters for democracy and progress in our country.

These bans, and the inevitable threat to Roe v. Wade that they represent, should not be seen as simply a “women’s issue,” but rather as a fight that working people as a whole cannot afford to lose.

From right-wing pipe dream to legal reality

At one time, laws proposing to again criminalize abortion were seen as being on the fringe, the pipe dreams of so-called pro-lifers. But in 2016, Donald Trump, who on the campaign trail promised to reverse Roe v. Wade and appoint Supreme Court Justices who would do just that, was elected to the highest office in the land. What has occurred since is major a shift in the politics surrounding reproductive health?

August Mulvihill, of Norwalk, Iowa, holds a sign during a rally to protest recent abortion bans, May 21, 2019, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall / AP

There have been 304 abortion restrictions of various kinds introduced in states across the country in 2019 alone. Louisiana has just become the fifth state to pass a fetal heartbeat ban. It joins Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio, which have all passed bills seriously restricting a woman’s right to safely terminate a pregnancy.

In pushing these heartbeat bans, lawmakers are employing a hefty dose of medical deception. The heartbeat to be detected, at approximately six weeks, wouldn’t actually come from a heart at all (since at six weeks an embryo would not have developed one), but rather from an electric signal from tissue called the fetal pole. But this is not a crowd who will let facts stand in their way.

In Alabama, the governor has signed into law an even more restrictive bill—going beyond just a heartbeat ban. That state’s new regulations effectively prohibit almost all abortions, with no exceptions even for cases of rape or incest. The law carries the threat of a 99-year prison sentence for any doctor who dares to perform an abortion.

In Missouri, meanwhile, Gov. Mike Parson is seeking to close down the only abortion/reproductive rights clinic in the (surprise, surprise) predominantly Black city of St. Louis.

Supreme Court justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch are seen as potential votes to gut Roe v. Wade when legal challenges to these new prohibitions eventually reach Washington. Trump’s nomination of Kavanaugh last year sparked protests and outrage across the country, as many advocates for women’s rights saw his appointment as a threat to progress and a possible reversal of years of struggle. Kavanaugh, who has been the subject of sexual assault allegations and has a history of taking anti-woman stances, is now residing on the highest court in the United States.

Couple this with Justice Clarence Thomas’s recent attack on the right to abortion by connecting it to a supposed eugenics conspiracy aimed at depleting the country’s population of people of color, and you have a storm brewing that will inevitably lead to a showdown over Roe v. Wade.

It’s not just about gender

This battle over the right of women to choose what is done with their bodies has both racial and class connotations. The abortion bans and the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade will not stop abortions from happening. What they will do is make it so that certain groups of people, particularly the working poor and people of color, are disproportionately affected and punished when seeking access to abortions. The further criminalization of women of color and marginalized communities will be the by-product of outlawing abortion.

Women of color are already overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Over 219,000 women are currently serving time in prison in the United States. Of that number, two-thirds are women of color. Black women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts. Latina women are 69% more likely to be incarcerated than white women. The incarceration of Native American women exhibits similarly disproportionate rates.

These statistics paint a bleak picture that if abortion is criminalized when women seek to have them anyway (which will occur, guaranteed), women of color will be the ones disproportionately prosecuted, as is the case with every other criminal offense, real or imagined.

Income inequality and systemic racism already play a factor in access to quality reproductive healthcare. The abortion bans make it even harder for women to decide what to do with their bodies. Because higher numbers of women of color are kept in poverty, many rely on Medicaid for their health care coverage. This puts them in the crosshairs of the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision that bans the use of federal funds for abortion. Native American women face similar struggles, as funding restrictions limit the kind of reproductive care available through the Indian Health Service, again effectively banning access to abortion.

It is already known that women who seek an abortion but are denied the right to one have higher odds of being in poverty. And once they are turned away from the reproductive health services they need, those women are more likely to be trapped in economic hardship and insecurity lasting for years to come. And as for the children of these mothers, studies confirm they also face a much higher chance of living below the poverty level than other children—a higher likelihood of growing up in households without enough money to cover housing, transportation, and food.

Abortion rights advocates gather May 21, 2019, at the Capitol in Jackson, Miss., as they rally to voice their opposition to state legislatures passing abortion bans. | Rogelio V. Solis / AP

The Christian Right may claim that outlawing abortion is a matter of morality and faith, a defense of “family values.” But in a society where profits are typically given priority over people, it is clear that control of the family has more to do with producing more workers to be exploited than with any spiritual invocation. (That has been the case since the family unit first developed, alongside private property and the state.)

Banning abortion is a political strategy

There are women in this country, especially women of color and the working poor, who already face economic hardship. The attack on abortion access only makes it worse. To emphasize again, this is not just a matter of gender, but also one of class and race. This may not be clear to everyone, but it is clear to those seeking to continue the exploitation of working people.

What better way to disadvantage the opposing team than to harm some of their most valuable players?

Women are the country’s largest voting bloc, and women of color are the fastest-growing segment of that group. According to American Progress, women of color represent 74% of the growth in eligible women voters since 2000—which translates into 12 million new voters. Black women have one of the highest rates of voter turnout, with their percentage actually surpassing their share of the population in 2008 and 2012. Black women have also historically been the most pro-union, with their demographic most likely to be union members.

What we have seen, in the 2018 midterm elections and other fights for justice, is that when Black women and women of color are empowered, progress and change happen.

What would be the outcome if these women are hit by even more economic oppression and criminalization—the inevitable outcome of these abortion bans and the possible gutting of Roe v. Wade?

What would be the outcome if the already disproportionate rates of Black women dying during childbirth (another result of health care inequality) increase due to the inability to choose to terminate a pregnancy?

It would be a severe detriment to the “team” that is the working class.

As we head toward the 2020 elections, the stepped-up attack on abortion rights and the targeting of Roe v. Wade must be seen as part of the same struggle that includes the fight for comprehensive health care for all, the fight against inequality, the fight for good jobs, the fight for an end to war, and so much more.

This is a struggle that will determine our future. It’s a fight working people can’t afford to lose.

Like free stuff? So do we. Here at People’s World, we believe strongly in the mission of keeping the labor and democratic movements informed so they are prepared for the struggle. But we need your help. While our content is free for readers (something we are proud of) it takes money — a lot of it — to produce and cover the stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, can keep us going. Only you can make sure we keep the news that matters free of paywalls and advertisements. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by becoming a $5 monthly sustainer today.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.