Last weekend, on 17 June, thousands of protestors took to the streets in London after Carla Foster, a mother of three, was jailed for procuring pills and inducing an abortion after the legal limit.
Foster received the medication through the post during the pandemic – a time when she was unable to attend scans because of the lockdown, and was forced to move back with her estranged partner.
Using draconian legislation from 1861, judges deemed her guilty of carrying out a late termination of her pregnancy, and sentenced her to 28 months in prison.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service described the verdict as “cruel and outdated”.
These punitive measures will feed into women’s worst fears that their right to ‘choose’ is slipping away.
Similarly to the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, with their recent decision, the UK courts have revealed how fragile our freedoms are, and how little autonomy women really have over their own bodies under capitalism.
At the same time, a recent shocking survey has revealed that 6 in 10 women who have had an abortion say that financial worries about the cost of raising children put them off pregnancy.
Along with real-terms pay cuts and soaring inflation, sky-rocketing childcare costs have placed predominantly working-class women in an horrific position, pushing them to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies.
The charity Coram has calculated that the average annual cost of a full-time nursery place for a child under two years-old is an extortionate £14,836.
The Tories’ recently-announced childcare package, meanwhile, is unlikely to offer much reprieve for parents who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Workers are therefore presented with a Sophie’s ‘choice’ when it comes to having children: either be driven below the poverty line, or simply abandon any hopes of raising a family.
As Marxists, we unreservedly defend women’s democratic right to an abortion against any attack from the reactionary ruling class.
But as can be seen, through these cases of criminalisation and the crisis in childcare, even where this formal ‘right’ to ‘choose’ exists, it is increasingly under fire for working-class women.
In reality, the freedoms that we supposedly possess contrast sharply with our actual ability to choose in practice.
On the other, for millions, the legal or biological ability to have a family does not mean that they can actually afford to have one.
This is reflected in the global collapse of fertility rates, with women in almost all countries having fewer children over their lifetime.
Similarly, in 2021, the total number of abortions in England and Wales was at its highest level since abortion was made legal in 1967.
This shines a spotlight on the hypocrisy of liberal ‘pro-choice’ feminists and the limitations of their ideas.
Whilst defending abortion rights in the abstract, in words, the liberals fail to address the vital class questions that determine women’s freedoms concretely: the austerity that impinges on access to abortions, or the crushing poverty that weighs down on working-class families, forcing women between a rock and a hard place.
Liberal feminists are therefore impotent to fight against women’s oppression, offering little more than hollow rhetoric, and failing to tackle the root of the problem.
The volley of attacks against women’s reproductive rights shows that capitalism cannot grant meaningful reforms.
Instead, under this sick system, our hard-won rights can only ever have a partial character, and are increasingly being threatened and eroded as the crisis deepens.
The fight for genuine freedom and rights for women must therefore be linked to the class struggle and the fight against capitalism.
The early accomplishments of the Bolsheviks showed the potential advances for women that could be achieved under socialism.
In conditions of economic and cultural backwardness, the Russian Revolution was able to grant women not only legal freedoms like the right to divorce and abortion, but also material access to healthcare and childcare services.
Similarly, through the planned economy, the Bolsheviks strived to socialise domestic chores, in order to liberate women from the shackles of the household.
These inspiring examples offer a window into what would be possible if capitalism was overthrown, and society was run according to needs.
Only through revolution can we uproot women’s oppression, and guarantee the whole of our class a future worth living for.