Abortion Rights: Marxists and Liberals

Apsken at aol.com Apsken at aol.com
Sun Feb 7 18:19:29 PST 1999

Alex postures with condescension, but declines to read and reflect, in his preference for a theological doctrine instead of a Marxist tradition and practice to guide him.

My example that Alex disdained demonstrated perfectly the distinction between Marxists and liberals with respect to abortion rights. Though both groups fought for these rights with valor, and justly celebrated our common victory, liberals soon parted ways with us when the question ceased to be simply access to abortions, and instead became the rights of poor, mainly African American, women to free reproductive choice. The militant (liberal) feminists of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, with some noteworthy exceptions, fell silent when the Black Panther Party challenged them to speak out and demonstrate against virtually coerced abortions and sterilizations.

Even earlier, the struggle was not as unified as feminist history records. Affluent petit-bourgeois (petite-bourgeoise?) liberals were concerned mainly with their own personal access to abortions, but in the fifties and early sixties they got them in safe havens such as Puerto Rico, while poor and working women were subject to back-alley horrors. Legalizing abortion was a convenience for the liberals, a matter of life and death for proletarians. Those of us who were involved in obtaining safe illegal abortions for comrades and fellow workers were subject to FBI surveillance and harrassment for those activities, as political crimes, though ordinarily they would have been beyonf FBI jurisdiction in the ordinary meaning of law enforcement.

When Katherine Pleune visited Cuba in 1960, and afterward went on the Freedom Ride to Mississippi, the FBI red-baited the Freedom Rides by passing to the Chicago Herald-American two "facts" about Kit: one, that she had "gotten her orders" from her communist masters in Cuba, and two, that she had had an illegal abortion in Chicago.

In Chicago, the proletarian struggle for reproductive freedom dated at least all the way back to the socialists and communists who worked with Jane Addams at Hull House before the Russian Revolution. I was taught this history by Freda Sahud, an amazing woman who had attended high school with Lenin, had emigrated to the Chicago to work with Russians at Hull House, and in her very old age volunteered to work in the Socialist Party office when I was its secretary and youth organizer. Her husband had been a physician who had performed abortions for comrades, raised bail for Bill Haywood to escape to Russia, and carried news back and forth between comrades here and there. (Unlike Alex, I felt privileged to have a comrade who could share these experiences and their lessons with an inexperienced teenage activist.) Those feminists who assert that reds neglected this struggle do not know the true history (and sometimes deny or disparage the Marxist affiliation and dedication of their heroines).

Ken Lawrence

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