Abortion debate reveals capitalist contradictions

March 2, 2012

Self described “advocate for women and girls” Melinda Tankard Reist recently launched a defamation claim against blogger Jennifer Wilson for saying Reist is a Baptist. Wilson’s article, on her blog No Place for Sheep, criticised Reist’s anti-abortion stance.

Wilson says that the crux of the defamation case is an attempt to silence a critical voice using the law.

Several commentators have responded to the controversy with a discussion about who has the right to claim the title “feminist” — which is interesting given that Reist doesn’t use the word to describe herself, although it is nevertheless implied.

The main problem with Reist being referred to as a feminist is that she is “pro-life” (meaning, of course, anti-abortion). This aligns her with such delightful souls as right-wing US politician Sarah Palin, who is a member of the group “Feminists for Life”.

Feminists for Life actively campaigns against abortion with the rhetoric “Women deserve better® than abortion” — a trademarked “message” that’s been taken up by several Republican candidates.

Reist’s religious beliefs are indeed relevant to the discussion, and the fact that Reist so determinedly keeps them under wraps invites speculation and further investigation.

Reist’s book Giving Sorrow Words documents 18 women’s tales of grief upon having an abortion. There is no reason to doubt the women’s reactions, but it’s another thing entirely to imply this shows abortions are bad and are psychologically damaging to women.

Mental and physical harm are the usual reasons cited by those seeking to combine the rhetoric of women’s rights with a “pro-life” defence, the ultimate aim of which is to restrict access to abortion.

Why is this such a problem? To answer that we need to take a step back from Reist’s morality line and consider the pro-choice and “pro-life” division in the context of capitalism, which reveals some serious contradictions.

Now that women are regularly members of the workforce, and take on most of the casual and poorly paid jobs, capitalism prefers them to keep working without interruptions, such as maternity leave or child-rearing responsibilities.

At the same time, sex sells. Young people are sold sex through advertising and other commercial propaganda, including a lot of pop music and youth culture. Selling sex is one of the things late capitalism does best.

Contraception and abortion are not bad things as far as the owners of the means of production are concerned: they allow people to have sex without it affecting their working life.

Therefore we find that in many situations, especially for young or otherwise marginalised women — such as the financially unstable or physically or mentally disabled people — there is considerable pressure to have an abortion if they fall pregnant. As is often the case, the classic liberal rhetoric of “choice” can conceal the fact that such individual choice rarely exists in reality.

However, at the same time, capitalism needs women to reproduce to create more workers.

It also needs them to take responsibility for those children and contribute much in the way of unpaid labour. As Tony Abbott so delightfully (and confusingly) explains in a comment about the carbon price: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year.”

That doesn’t really make sense, but it suggests he thinks women belong working in the home for no pay.

The abortion debate reveals a classic contradiction of capital.

The usual conservative line is to be anti-abortion, tightly allying with the Christian right.

One might think that aiming to reduce the number of abortions would translate into being pro-contraception — surely better and more contraception would equal less abortions. But contraception and real sex education are almost equally taboo in the eyes of the Christian right.

Their “solution” is simply advocating abstinence until such a time that a woman is “ready” (read: married and financially secure) to have a child.

Abstinence is hardly a failsafe guard against the pressures of society, culture, men, changing hormones and normal, healthy emotions.

The result is a systematic cycle that effectively guarantees the oppression of women, and especially young women.

It matters little if a woman is “protecting her innocence”, is sexually active and using contraception, has had or will have an abortion, or is a mother in or out of wedlock — she is still vulnerable to attack from capitalism and conservatives for not fitting into an impossible mould.

This is cause for significant confusion, angst and identity issues among women.

As a socialist and feminist youth organisation, Resistance stands for true liberation for women. We recognise that there is no easy solution. However, we certainly believe that restricting a woman’s access to abortion denies her right to control over her own body and life.

Instead we encourage all people to investigate the influence of capitalism and patriarchy, and patriarchal religious institutions, on women and their choices. A big part of the answer is to campaign for free, legal and easy access to secular, agenda-free sex education, family planning advice, contraception, abortion, physical and mental health care, natal care, childcare and support for all women.


This article reminds me of a paper I once wrote on traditional Educational models as as a design for producing economic capital out of children, rather than on supporting a child's development into the adult their own potential inspires them to be. Such an inhumane distortion of the potential of children not only grossly fails in its own aims of strengthening the efficiency of capitalist tools of production, it also fails in producing a society of individuals working to benefit the whole of society.
As a "feminist" organisation, surely you are aware of the latest research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry (Aug 2011), which shows that there is an increase risk of 81% of negative psychological impact for women who choose abortion over birthing their baby. http://wecareexperts.org/ As a "feminist" organisation, one would imagine that you want what is best for women and would oppose abortion and the social pressures (lack of support) that drives women to abort. Indeed Germaine Greer (renowned feminist) said that " abortion is the last non choice in a long list of non choices"... Furthermore, what do you have to say about the 200,000,000 girls missing because of sex selection abortions, murders and abandonment? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISme5-9orR0 Abortion is indeed "A REFLECTION THAT THE NEEDS OF WOMEN ARE NOT BEING MET!!" True feminists? PFFT!!!!!
Have you accepted the notion that you have no choice but to kill your own children or have no children to be equal in a capitalist society? Abortion gives society and especially predatory men an easy out; “Here’s a few hundred bucks, go get that taken care of”. Society does not have to consider any of the problems working mothers face because it gave you the obligation to get an abortion if you thought a child would be an issue for you and if you did not get the abortion then too bad for you. It does not have to give you equal pay or anything else you would want to continue working and advancing and yet despite this, women with children do this every day. P.S. The outline picture of a woman you have on your website is incorrect. In that large bare space in the middle, it is missing an outline of (scientifically speaking) the individual separate body of the human life developing inside his/her mother’s body, with perhaps the question of “Don’t I get a choice?” By all means, do what you want with your own body, but when you are pregnant you have another persons body to consider. Let's at least be honest.
After reading about the abortion debate for sometime, as a male, it always strikes me that the debate centers around the choice of women? Which generally makes sense given that it is the females body. But as the article pointed out many abortions are often advocated by the male. It would be interesting to know what percentage of abortions are the choice of the male and not the female. likewise how many abortions are carried out against the males wishes? The male although not carrying the child is still emotionally, and genetically attached and responsible for the unborn child. My point is this: Let's make the debate around abortion a male issue too - let the men take responsibility for their actions and the affect those actions have on women and children (born and unborn). I think for most men abortion is non-issue because it doesn't affect them and they think it is as simple as having a tooth filling down! When the realty is quite different. Also: I don't think Tony Abbott mean't women should be at home working for no pay, I think he was trying to be PC saying that whether you are a working women or a stay at home mum you will see an increase in the cost of doing the ironing - about the only sexist think it implied was that he thinks ironing is woman's work.
Of course it hurts women. That doesn't automatically make it the choice of another, though. Freedom also means the freedom to potentially hurt oneself.
You make some very flawed arguments: a) The article was advocating *choice* for women - regardless of what a male partner says re a few hundred bucks. It should be up to a woman to decide, given it is her body, whether to have a child or not. You write as though the choice is forced abortion or banned abortion - clearly neither is acceptable, what we should support is choice. b) As for the picture missing the "scientific speaking" "human life" - sorry, wrong again. "Scientifically" what is inside a pregnant woman is a foetus - it is not a human life, it cannot function without the woman to bring it to life 9 months later! This slippery language is loved by the religious-right to confuse and moralise to women. Ultimately it is a woman's body, and the most important argument is that banning or restricting abortion won't stop abortion, it will merely drive it underground, into the unsafe, exploitable, backyard sphere. Our argument, as the article puts well, is that it should not be up to the state or the church - but up to a woman to decide her fate.
Hi there - couple of clear errors: 1. You've mentioned increased risk of 81% of neg psychological impact for women after an abortion....yet even your OWN material actually states that of that, only 10% is what they can link to actually having an abortion. 2. But then there is the problem of the material itself - which is FAR FAR from prestigous , check out some useful critiques here, which also note the common anti-choice medical names coming up.... http://scathinglywrongrightwingnutz.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/british-journal-of-psychiatry-not.html 3. As a feminist group we should oppose abortion? And support the state having control of womens bodies - wow, sounds incredibly feminist. 4. In terms of sex-selected abortions etc - exactly, if you read the article it was also pointing out that capitalism oppresses in many ways, include having a sexist society where one gender is favoured over another - we need to get rid of such a system and its inhuman backings. That means removing all aspects that hamper a womens liberation and choice - whether that is fertility restriction, as in China; or restriction on abortion, as remains in much of Australia. The simple fact is if you advocate for abortion to be banned or restricted, you will simply drive abortions underground, back to the horrific days of coathangers and dodgy operators in a position to exploit women.
If you study the real evidence, not the propaganda of the anti-choice brigade, you find that: * Post natal depression (i.e. "negative psychological impact") is quite common among mothers who give birth to babies (much more common than depression among women who have abortions) * the most common emotional response experienced by women who have an abortion, is relief. * of those women who have abortions and feel regrets and stress ("negative psychological impact"), the most common reason for this is the pressure of ideologically driven anti-choice campaigns. Conclusion: make no laws that restrict the reproductive choices available to women. Make available the *option* of non-judgmental, counselling and support services for those who want them.
Not covered in the scope of this article is the right wing's long time love of eugenics and the commodification of women and children. Behind much of the anti-choice movement there is a pro-adoption movement. We have just had the findings of the Senate inquiry into forced adoptions. A terrible time in our history where thousands of women and their children were forcibly removed from each other because they considered to be unfit to be breeding and their children handed over to 'respectable' white married infertile couples. This just after our national apology to the Stolen Generation. Baby farming and trafficking is a billion dollar business. The supply of healthy infants in Australia does not meet the demand of wealthy infertile couples who now look overseas to purchase the product they think they need to make their happy family lifestyle complete. Melinda Tankard Reist has written a book on the negative outcomes for abortion for some women. Indeed, there can be negative outcomes for some women from abortion, as there are for many difficult life decisions, and especially when it is presented as a hand picked group designed to do so. As has already been pointed out in the previous comments and the article itself the figures she has used are rubbery and dodgy to say the least. Well, there are also statistics on the negative outcomes for pregnancies. And what are the statistics on pregnancies that are forced on women? And if that pregnancy ends in adoption it would make even the dodgy figures used by MTR pale in comparison. Suicides, prison, depression, learning difficulties, eating disorders, self harm and other mental health statistics are all hugely over represented by adoptees and mothers who have lost their children to adoption. The right wing fundamentalist are already jockeying to remove any welfare safety net and have children removed from single parent families once again. While MTR is to be supported in her work in exposing the sexualisation of children in advertising and general pornification of the media, even if from a hidden (?) right wing Christian agenda she is by no means alone in this. Feminist and socialists have worked doing this for generations. And what is more they challenge the economic system which creates the economic system that creates the commodification of children and women and which forces women into prostitution to survive. But we don't hear too much from her or her fellow right wing Christians on economic redistribution or economic democracy. Not only must a woman be free from church or state interference to make her own choices when it comes to her body she needs to be free to move in society and access all opportunities to develop fully as a person with out economic, social or physical barriers to stop her. Maggie
"In recent weeks, conservatives have complained about being forced to pay for other people’s birth control, but a recently released study indicates that increasing availability to contraception actually saves taxpayer money. A report released by The Brookings Institution this week showed that a $235 million program to expand access to Medicaid family planning would actually result in a savings of $1.35 billion. That’s a return on investment of over 500 percent." http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/19py85/www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/03/07/study-shows-birth-control-saves-taxpayer-money/
i understand you're being sincere but i don't think saying 'what about the men?' is helpful to the abortion debate at all. it is a movement that centres around the womens choice because it is men who have continously tried to take this choice away from women. you said: "Let's make the debate around abortion a male issue too - let the men take responsibility for their actions and the affect those actions have on women and children (born and unborn)"- your sentiment is good, if we were talking about raising children- which men should share an equal responsibility towards and co-parent- but that is not what we are talking about. your references to children born or unborn is not relevant to abortion. there is no child(ren) involved. those issues are relevant only afterwards if a woman decides she wants to proceed with the pregnancy. then the man can be involved, but he is not involved in wether the woman wants to reproduce or not or wether she should get an abortion. btw i'm not saying men shouldn't be involved in the abortion debate, its a human rights issue that no woman should be forced to go through an unwanted pregnancy, i think its fantastic, but the reasons you put forward bothered me. i hope i was clear :) jade.
Nothing at all is mentioned here about the exchange of monies that happens when people adopt other people's babies, or then again the new alternative Surrogacy. I agree abortion is a choice a viable one for people to make when necessary. I also see what the far right are on about and it's highly suss, as they are always extreme in their views toward this topic. Feminists, some are 'feminists' yet seem to be on the side of the neocons rather that feminism. Cheers Marty
The Australian Senate Inquiry into Forced Adoptions has shown a lot of people what they may not have wanted to see, the profound trauma of losing a baby to adoption. The pain of losing a baby is not like this as there is no constant anguished mystery of where is, how is, and how well cared for is my born baby. Yes behind much of anti-abortion movement is pro-adoption advocacy and that's tragic. Carmel
His own words and using them without thinking.
I am not wanting to take the writers creibility for granted, but find it hard to focus on exactly what salient points the writer is making. There's a lot of topics in one here. Abortions are for some non-traumatic, for others they are very. Adoptions are too often very profoundly traumatic for the girls and women and a multi billion dollar business, with USA leading the way. I do agree the anti-abortionsists may be in on the latter and that's thought provoking.. Babies as a commodity is something I find repulsive. Feminists are differing in their views, yet true enough some claim to be and are not, they have an agenda all their own, not collective and for the good of women, whether to do with abortion or adoption or any other feminine matter. Men do have a say in abortions as more often than not the men accompany and pay for the abortions of their girlfriends from my observations and prior they talk it out. Having a say politically, the men are right out there in Australia especially the far right and extreme are their views. Men and women are all parents whether they parent or not, and have their say in various forums about abortions and adoptions. I'm thinking about the Senate Inquiry into Forced Adoptions and thinking I wonder if the writer of this article has seen that post. It's filled with terrible stories about the causes and effects of adoptions when these are coerced. Many were and many still are, not all at all though. Also agree, anti-abortionsists are pro-adoption and that's because of the mega money involved, without thought nor concern about the women's well being and health or any matter. Three women died in America after Surrogacy, so there are complications with the medications given to these women (often Uni students or otherwise poor women) who altruistically or otherwise give birth for someone else to benefit the joy of a new life/baby. This is a leage topic and maybe needs sub headings, as there's a lot in one article and not all totally pinned together for clarity. It's got a lot of thought provoking things in it nonetheless.
In the entire history of mammalian reproduction no fetus has ever had a choice, and no fetus ever will. Fetus's cannot choose. They have no more ability to choose than your liver. The mind-bogglingly stupid notion of a fetus asking "Don't I get a choice?" is simply a pretext for taking choice away from women.
Regarding contraceptives/abortion/ adoption etc It is not good enough to tell people what they must/must not do Or even to tell them its your problem deal with it. Society/Government/Community/Churches etc should be saying Whatever you choose we will provide information, psychological and financial support you need both in helping you making your choice, and providing assistance you will require.
If you want to do a $ sign Ayn Rand on babies too, that's capitalism at an extremely neocon, injumane and unconscionable level. Babies are not commodities. The writer seems a bit confused about some of what she's writing and I can't quite grasp what she's really getting at. Tried too. Abortions are tragic for many and no doubt hurting, for others they are a way of understanding self enough to know 'I can;t do this alone or whatever'. Adoptions are found to be very profoundly traumatic for the mothers and babies. It's about individuals choosing, having choices. For a few adoptions may well work and be their free choice. It's about human rights, and everyone knows the baby kicks inside but no one performs abortions on mothers when that stage of development occurs. This is a complicated site and I wish the writer could write it clearer to give the reader more understanding of exactly what she's saying. Thanks Abi
Reading this I can see what the writer is getting at. I also can see how the sincere progressive 'feminists' sought and seek to have abortions available to save the worst kinds of trauma, that of losing infants to adoption, or that of nurturing infants when they didn't choose too. Women do have the right to choice here, as well as counselling, and information about the effects of both abortions and adoptions, as well as about contraception. I know counselling for abortion would be less lengthy than counselling for say loss from forced or otherwise adoption. There is evidence of this also. The journalism here raises some very important point about money being above and beyond all that matters when we're talking about wome's lives and livlihoods. There is a spiritual component beyond the material or monetary (and I'm not writing about church right religious spirituality, I'm writing about emotional spirituality). There comes a time when the neocons need to start showing compassion and empathy tpwards women and their bodies, instead of forcing their rigid, dogmatic, unconscionable views and actions on women and all others. Thanks Margaret
Too often it's the senstive artist who in their often alone worlds doing their hard yards who understand that humanity is showing empathy & compassion. Not all artists yet a lot who stand out in my mind. I think all adoptions have something wrong with them, especially forced. Also think abortions are a free choice, and so it should be. Mel

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