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The Right to Life Ends at Birth

By Stephen Shenfield June 27, 2022 No Comments 4 Min Read

The Supreme Court has been throwing its weight around lately. Not content with sabotaging legislative attempts to restrict access to mass-murder weapons, it has now overturned Roe v. Wade (1973), which established a legal right to abortion.

For most although not all of its existence, the Supreme Court has played a reactionary role in American society. Indeed, it is one of the mechanisms – the Electoral College is another – that the Founding Fathers created for the express purpose of weakening the democratic elements in the Constitution. That is why an effort to democratize the Constitution may have to precede the establishment of socialism in the United States. 

It seems puzzling that people who claim to care so much for the ‘right to life’ of the fetus should so stubbornly uphold the right to buy and bear firearms designed to kill lots of people very fast. Their motto, I suppose, is: the right to life ends at birth.

Abortions will continue whatever the law may say. Making them illegal has never stopped them and never will stop them. 

Remarkably, the Guttmacher Institute has shown that the abortion rate in the US was higher when in most states abortion was illegal.

David French, writing in the June 2022 issue of The Atlantic, cites this fact, but avoids drawing the obvious conclusion that criminalizing abortion is pointless or even counterproductive. He still favors ‘legal protections for unborn life’ – a pretty phrase that obscures the ugly reality of desperate women, together with the physicians and nurses who try to help them, being arrested and dragged off to jail.  

According to medical specialists, of the 42 million women who have abortions worldwide each year 20 million have abortions that are illegal and therefore especially unsafe (there are risks even in legal abortions).

How are illegal abortions performed? 

Methods of unsafe abortion include drinking toxic fluids such as turpentine, bleach, or drinkable concoctions mixed with livestock manure. Other methods involve inflicting direct injury to the vagina or elsewhere—for example, inserting herbal preparations into the vagina or cervix; placing a foreign body such as a twig, coat hanger, or chicken bone into the uterus; or placing inappropriate medication into the vagina or rectum. Unskilled providers also perform dilation and curettage in unhygienic settings, causing uterine perforations and infections. Methods of external injury are also used, such as jumping from the top of stairs or a roof, or inflicting blunt trauma to the abdomen.

Some 68,000 die as a result, the main causes of death being ‘hemorrhage, infection, sepsis, genital trauma, and necrotic bowel.’ Five million suffer long-term health complications, which ‘include poor wound healing, infertility, consequences of internal organ injury (urinary and stool incontinence from vesicovaginal or rectovaginal fistulas), and bowel resections.’

So the issue is not: abortion yes or no? The issue is under what conditions abortions will be performed. By qualified physicians In hygienic clinics? Or in back streets, with resort to all sorts of desperate and dangerous methods? 

Most people admit that abortion is an abhorrent procedure, not to be undertaken lightly. However, making it a crime does much more harm than good. This is one of many social problems that cannot be solved by punishing people. 

In a socialist society abortion will be a rare event. On the one hand, there will be free access to a wide variety of safe, effective, and unobtrusive contraceptives for both sexes. On the other hand, people will no longer be forced to prevent births because they cannot afford to take care of another child. A few abortions will continue to be performed for health or other reasons. 

For more discussion of abortion, see the article posted by Alan Johnstone on June 25 on his blog: ‘Socialism or Your Money Back’

Written By

I grew up in Muswell Hill, north London, and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain at age 16. After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked as a government statistician in the 1970s before entering Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1989 I moved with my family to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University, where I taught International Relations. After leaving Brown in 2000, I worked mainly as a translator from Russian. I rejoined the World Socialist Movement about 2005 and am currently general secretary of the World Socialist Party of the United States. I have written two books: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) and more articles, papers, and book chapters that I care to recall.

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