By DOLORES UNDERWOOD
As International Women’s Day events take place around the world, we are experiencing a moment of reactionary upsurge here in the U.S. against women and the LGBTQI+ community. These frontal attacks have the most immediate and devastating effect on the most oppressed sectors of the country, in particular working-class, immigrant, Black, and Indigenous peoples. The disintegration of democratic rights happens within the context of a heightened crisis of imperialist capitalism, in which the ruling class of the foremost global hegemon struggles to find places to extract wealth and cut costs in an environment of increasing imperialist hostility.
In July of last year, we watched as one of the most undemocratic institutions in the country ended the almost 50-year span of federal protection for the right to an abortion. This effectively passed the decision to permit access to abortions back to individual states. Since the Supreme Court made the ruling (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization), 24 states have banned or are likely to ban abortions.
This occurs at a moment when the country is experiencing a maternal mortality crisis, in which the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among imperialist countries. Black women experience an even higher rate: In 2021, the maternal death rate for white women was 26.1 per 100,000 in comparison to 68.9 per 100,000 for Black women.
One of the roots of the current crisis is the predatory for-profit health-care industry. Health-care workers experienced amplified exploitation during the pandemic. Nurses strikes reflected a quarter of all major strikes in the U.S. in the last year. Obstetrics units have closed at a rapid pace, particularly in rural communities with high Black and Latina populations, due in large part to the lack of financial incentive. The U.S. has a high rate of avoidable deaths of women, largely due to lack of access and financial means to seek the care necessary.
After birth, the situation does not improve for U.S. women. With no federally mandated policy for paid maternity leave, women are pressured to return to work as soon as possible after giving birth. The exorbitant price of child care, which in 2021 cost over $10,000 annually (more than 10% of the median income for a married couple), forced many women to leave the workforce. For single mothers, options are even more dire, and many rely on family or friends to take on unpaid domestic labor.
Childbearing benefits the ruling class because it regenerates the labor-force, and therefore produces labor-power, which is extracted as profits by the capitalists. However, during the period of childbearing and nursing, the ability of working-class women to provide surplus-labor to the capitalist declines. As a result of this contradiction—the need for social reproduction alongside the effects on profits—the capitalist class tries to minimize expenditures towards supporting reproduction. In the U.S., the capitalists are currently forcing these costs on working-class women, cruelly eliminating access to family-planning while increasing costs and placing the cost to bear children entirely on the shoulders of the working-class family (whatever form that may take).
These attacks on reproductive health are ways to surveille, threaten imprisonment, and control physical and social mobility, disciplining working-class and oppressed women and gender non-conforming people.
The history of slavery in the U.S. requires that any discussion of women acknowledge and pay specific attention to how the oppression and exploitation of Black women manifests itself. At the intersection of poverty, motherhood, and race, Black working-class women in the U.S. face increased policing and hostility by the state. Mass incarceration impacts Black women at an alarming rate in the U.S., where one in 18 will go to jail in her lifetime (in comparison to one in 45 Latinas and one in 118 white women). The Women’s Prison Association estimates that the number of women in prison grew by over 800% between 1977 and 2007, with the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics finding that the number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled since 1991. The draconian abortion and “fetal protection” laws imposed over the past decades contributes to the criminalization of women, who find themselves convicted of manslaughter for experiencing miscarriages.
The number of anti-trans bills introduced in the past couple of years in Congress has also increased. At the state and national levels, these bills attack trans and nonbinary youth, equating gender-affirming care to child abuse and attempting to codify narrow biological definitions for “man” and “woman.” The escalation of anti-trans rhetoric has had a devastating impact on the community, with 32 reported transgender and gender-nonconforming people killed in the U.S. in 2022, the overwhelming majority being Black and under the age of 35.
In the absence of a mass and democratic working-class-led movement, over the past decades non-profit organizations and the Democrats have positioned themselves vis-à-vis the Republicans as the defenders of women and the LGBTQI+ community. The Democratic Party deceptively appropriates the issues of abortion and LGBTQI+ rights, which they and their press understand as cultural and ideological issues rather than ones rooted in capitalist exploitation, to rally voters to the polls. Despite a long track record that shows their complicity in chipping away at the right to an abortion and continuing to support anti-abortion politicians over their more progressive challengers, many left-wing groups capitulate to lesser-evil electoral strategies. Contributing to the crisis in leadership and impeding the growth of a mass movement is the sectarian nature of many socialist organizations in the country that prioritize recruiting to their own parties over building united fronts.
Members of Workers’ Voice/La voz de los trabajadores participate in this movement by emphasizing the all-important need that the reproductive justice movement remain independent of all capitalist parties, that it base its analysis of women’s and gender oppression in capitalist exploitation—i.e., the needs of the capitalist class to accumulate profits and to smash the independence and unity of the working class—and the urgent need to unite diverse struggles into a mass movement.