Roe V. Wade: an attack on reproductive autonomy in the U.S.

This article first appeared in The Anvil Vol 11 No 3, published 30 June 2022.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade (the decision that recognised the criminalisation of abortion as unconstitutional), is not only a massive attack on women in its own right, but also a signpost of the U.S. Right’s increasing radicalisation and power within the State. The political Right in the U.S. are not just conservatives seeking to preserve the status-quo – they are outright reactionaries. They are attempting to roll back two generations of social progress. This can only be done with great violence. And, as anyone observing the U.S. can see, great violence is exactly what they have in store for their opponents.

Much has been written about how appalling this decision is, and we agree wholeheartedly with that judgement. It will destroy the lives of millions of women (as well as trans-men), which is reason enough to fight it. Two other things need to be considered, though. The first is what else the U.S. Right has on its agenda and the second is what should be done.

The Right’s Agenda

For the Right, overturning Roe v. Wade is only the first step in attempting to stamp out abortion altogether in the U.S. Their objective is to get abortion equated with murder which, ideally, is subject to capital punishment. In addition, they want to reverse many other decisions, starting with same-sex marriage and access to contraceptives. The same justification used to overturn Roe v. Wade will raise challenges to Obergefell vs Hodges (same-sex marriage) and likewise calls into question Loving v. Virginia (inter-racial marriage) and Brown v. the Board of Education (racial segregation), which the most radical of white supremacists now have the judicial ammunition to gun for. Republicans consider themselves to be on the march and recent Supreme Court decisions give them every encouragement to try for more. Apart from being totally immoral, it’s therefore the height of political stupidity to react by saying “Oh well, we lost that one, let’s turn our attention to something else.”

What Not to Do

Anarchists and other activists in the United States should resist the calls to “put aside your petty differences and get behind the Democrats in November”. This is a recipe for disaster. It would tar everybody who followed that advice with responsibility for Biden’s own Right-wing and anti-working class administration. Biden will demoralise his supporters, perhaps even enough to outweigh people’s rage at the Supreme Court decision.

In arguing against the electoral road, we need to emphasise that this is precisely the strategy which got us to this point in the first place. Electing Democrats and relying on Supreme Court decisions? Where has that gotten the USA working class and the fight for reproductive autonomy?

A Better Way

What’s needed to win back abortion rights and turn the tide against the Right in the U.S. is a militant campaign that mobilises the rage of women and everyone else in the Right’s cross-hairs. This, of course, especially includes Black people. While this will include large, angry demonstrations which are prepared to take on and resist police repression, this should not be the main focus of the movement.

The movement needs two areas of struggle. The first is to focus on a wide campaign of non-cooperation with anti-abortion laws in the various U.S. States and harassment of those who would support or enforce them. This would be most powerful if organised in the workplace. Strikes and labour boycotts would mobilise the immense potential power of the working class and impose intolerable costs on the capitalists.

The second area of struggle needs to be an underground network of abortion services. Elements of this already exist, especially in providing transport to areas where abortion is more readily accessible, but it will need enlargement and development. While medically trained staff are, of course, essential, they will be greatly out-numbered by those providing back-up infrastructure and assistance. And the network would need to be defended by the above-ground movement.

It is the combination of these two modes of struggle that can win the campaign. One will apply massive political pressure to Republicans, Democrats, and the State apparatus, while the other exposes the State as unable to enforce a detested law. These are the circumstances in which legalisation can best be achieved, since far-sighted capitalists – and the politicians that serve them – will judge it necessary to re-establish the credibility of the State, both morally and in practice.

The Role of Anarchist Communists

In this struggle, Anarchist Communists will emphasise the importance of direct action and rank-and-file control of the organisations of struggle which emerge in our fight against the State and capital. We will also support mutual aid as a means of achieving things the State is trying to prevent. In both cases, self-organisation will be demonstrated as superior to hierarchical authority and legalistic parliamentarism. Through these tactics, we can spread the ideas of anarchist communism and contribute to the generation of a workers movement capable of extracting concessions from the bosses and government and, ultimately, overthrowing the capitalist state system itself. There is a world to win.