a Workers Solidarity Movement policy statement

Abortion Rights

1.) Why we believe in a "woman's right to choose"

The WSM is entirely opposed to women's oppression. Women's biology, pregnancy and child-bearing has copper-fastened their inferior position in capitalist society. This has been extended so that they are also stuck with child rearing and child-minding within the family. Therefore women's access to work, education, leisure and any chance of self-advancement has been strictly limited. This is especially true for working class women.

Women have always tried to control their own fertility. Anti-abortion laws have resulted in back-street abortions and induced miscarriages. World-wide, one woman dies from a back-street abortion every three minutes. Wining full control over their own fertility is an essential step towards ending womens' oppression. The technology has been developed under capitalism to make this both safe and possible. Women must have the right to use this technology to decide if and when to have children.

We support a woman's access to full, free and safe contraception. If she finds herself pregnant but does not wish to have a child then she should have access to free, safe abortion on request.

2. What do we mean by a woman's right to choose

We believe in real options and real choices for women. A woman who wants to have a child shouldn't have to spend the rest of her life looking after it. This is why we favour the option of full child-care provision paid for by the state, maternity leave and flexi-time for working, public creche facilities, restaurants and launderettes. The present role of the vast majority of women as full-time unpaid domestics and child-minders within the family must be ended.

A woman who finds herself pregnant and does not wish to remain so should have a right to free, safe abortion on demand. This is not an abstract political slogan, we don't go around shouting "free abortion on demand" in the belief that it can only be gained in the context of a socialist revolution. We believe that it is merely one of the basic first steps in freeing women from the constraints placed on them by capitalism.

Our argument for abortion rights rests on womens' right to control their own fertility. The quality of a woman's life can never be made equal to that of an unborn foetus. The foetus is totally dependent on the mother it cannot be said to have an independent existence. To give it such rights (as per the Irish constitution) reduces women to the status of breeding machines or walking wombs.

However, politically, there is little point in entering debates on "when does life begin?" or viability of the foetus. Our arguments must must focus on a woman's right to control her own body.

3. Ireland - what is the immediate situation?

The Supreme Court judgement(s) in the case of the raped 14 year old leaves us with more questions then answers. On the one hand it appears to legalise abortion in strictly limited circumstances, i.e. if there is "a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother". However 3 out of the 5 judges still see the court as having a duty to "vindicate the right to life of the unborn". This means travelling to Britain or Europe for an abortion can result in injunctions and even jailings.

Another constitutional referendum now seems inevitable. The politicians might prefer legislative reform but know that any wording is bound to displease some of the voters. It is also difficult, if not impossible, to remove or amend the protocol in the Maastricht treaty. SPUC's idea of an Amendment which totally outlaws abortion in Ireland but guarantees free travel in the EEC and possibly information may be accepted by Fianna Fáil. The Right may regain the initiative, but will find it a lot harder than in 1983. Attitudes have shifted in the last eight years.

This was seen, without doubt, in the major shift in public consciousness during the case of the fourteen year old. 10,000 demonstrated in Dublin on February 22nd,1992 - many of whom had never been on the streets before. Thousands joined in angry pickets on the Dáil and 66% in an opinion poll (Sunday Independent) favoured. Suddenly abortion wasn't murder in some cases!

We should remain involved in the Repeal the Eighth Amendment Campaign but with our eyes open. Already many problems have emerged.

a) The emphasis on legal reform and tinkering with the Maastricht protocol over straight campaigning to repeal the Amendment.

b)The campaign is focused too much on lobbying, elaborate and expensive media stunts and legal reform. This will speed the demobilisation of anger which began with the well timed court decision.

c)It is dominated by liberals and there are some leanings towards radical feminism. So far it has tended to be manipulative and undemocratic.

d)It was widely acknowledged verbally that there should be a "right to choose" strand in the campaign. We should be wary of attempts to put this on the back burner.

Over the last few weeks we have had a graphic example of how rapidly peoples set views can change. Repeal of the Eighth Amendment could still become a major issue whatever (or even despite) the activities of the Repeal the Eighth Amendment Campaign. We have to continue to argue for an open and democratic campaign, delegate structure and a definite "right to choose" strand.

It is vital to begin discussion on "a woman's right to choose" and how to take this fight forward in Ireland. The Dublin Abortion Information Campaign is now "right to choose" in all but name. This is an excellent forum within which to begin these debates.

This paper is out of date - see the new WSM site for the more recent version