Abortion rights are an issue for all working people

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19 May 2008

For centuries, women's rights have been a measure of the progress of human society. Among these rights, the right for pregnant women to choose whether to go ahead with a pregnancy or to have an abortion - since that became possible - is fundamental, since it affects the best of the next two decades of their lives.

This Tuesday, MPs vote over yet another Tory anti-abortion motion. If adopted, it would reduce the previous limit for having an abortion from 24 to 22 or 20 weeks of pregnancy, and possibly less. Already, back in 1990, the then Tory government restricted abortion by reducing this limit from 28 to 24 weeks. This was a reactionary measure in keeping with the reactionary policies of the Tories in every other sphere.

However, once Labour came into office, nothing was done to restore women's rights. Blair and Brown draped themselves in a religious mantle. They talked about "morality", nodded towards churches and religions, and refused to challenge the prejudices of the most backward voters. As a result, the 24 weeks limit remained, leaving women high and dry. Even today, while pledging to vote against this motion, Brown allows a "free vote" to Labour MPs, on the hypocritical grounds that some of them are Catholics!

But Brown's hypocrisy goes much further because Labour has undermined the right to abortion by other means than legislation. Indeed, where are the family planning clinics which are supposed to advise women on contraceptives and help them in the early days of unwanted pregnancies? Most of the NHS-run clinics have disappeared, due to Labour's cuts. As to GPs, who should be of some help, Labour has pushed them increasingly into money-making operations which do not consider family planning as worth it.

As always, when it comes to women's rights, it is working class women who suffer most. There is no shortage of female directors in boardrooms, even if they are a minority. But on the shopfloor and in offices, working class women remain in the most taxing and low-paid jobs. Likewise when it comes to abortion. The wealthy can afford to resort to private medical clinics if the NHS does not deliver, but the rest of us cannot. They can afford a trip to Scandinavia or Eastern Europe to by-pass legal limits on abortion. Not so for working class women. And if the worst comes to the worst and they are forced to give birth, wealthy women can afford nannies, boarding schools, etc... without having this affecting their lives!

This is why the right of women to have an abortion is an issue for all workers, men and women alike. Any attempt to undermine this right is an attack on the working class as a whole, because, ultimately, it is an attack on the rights of working people to choose the lives they want to have.