West Belfast. Socialist Republican, Ciarán Cunningham highlights what he feels are deficiencies in the Left perspective on abortion and the right to choose.
Pronounced demands from the Irish Left for legislation bringing closer the availability of abortion on demand here now enjoy prominence both as policy and as a popular campaigning platform.
Yet while forwarded as no less than standard socialist doctrine, this position potentially risks compromising principles of class struggle in their truest sense.
In the north practically all sections of the left have for decades now made visible calls for an extension of the 1967 abortion act while similar demands are increasingly raised in regards to a repealing of the 8th amendment in the twenty-six.
The largest and most visible manifestations of left-wing thinking - the amalgamated People Before Profit/Anti Austerity Alliance groupings - have made abortion demand a central tenet of their political faith, and the passion with which they (and indeed all other sections within the broad left) display on the issue has gone virtually unquestioned by anybody who shares the Socialist worldview. Indeed, the author (not relishing the thought of provoking the scorn of those he considers comrades) thought seriously before commencing this piece at all.
Yet as a father of three in his forties, active in one way or another with the Irish left since my teens, I find it difficult to placidly accept (as I did when I was younger) the increasingly contradictory rationale of the ostensibly titled pro-choice lobby here.
Pro-choice leftists often make an accurate criticism of those described as ‘pro-life’, stating (with total justification) that on a political level they don’t challenge economic deprivations common to capitalist society; factors demonstrably shown elsewhere to drive thousands of working class women to seek abortion.
Yet this criticism exposes an equally damning flaw within the left’s own position.
For when it comes to debating the issue of abortion, the same factors are now abandoned by the left, replaced instead by an elevated and selective concept of ‘choice’.
A woman’s right to choose, is now promoted by the left as a standalone value, independent of economic, social or material pressures, unrelated to access (or the lack of it) to resources vital for any expecting woman or couple; such as post-natal support, suitable housing, and a sufficient family income.
This tendency was aptly demonstrated in November’s Northern edition of The Socialist newspaper which dedicated its front page to calls for an extension of the 1967 Abortion Act to here.
Zero class analysis was offered by the Socialist Party, around factors which inevitably press down harder upon working class women than their privileged counter parts when considering ‘choice’ and abortion. Indeed, the only ‘class issue’ mentioned on the front page, was how some women found it more expensive to travel to England than others; an appalling lack of in depth analysis for a movement that describes itself as Marxist.
The inevitable conclusion for those of us primarily concerned with securing adequate standards of living for working class mothers, children and families, is that many on the left are now content to retreat towards a position which proposes an increased availability of abortion on demand as a viable alternative to the struggle for a compassionate and benevolent society capable of providing for pregnant women, children and families.
Of course, to consider benevolence as a preferred goal to abortion, requires a consensus that abortion in itself is a negative procedure, a conclusion which many on the left – for equally questionable reasons - appear fundamentally opposed to.
Whether or not Socialists recognises this as a defeatist position, there is no doubt that many proponents of right wing economics will applaud what effectively amounts to less demands for social welfare and front page endorsement of a service long provided by the private sector, and one which dips into National Health resources to boot.
It is unlikely however, that the editor of The Socialist newspaper saw the irony in headlining the back page of the same edition to ‘Stormont’s race to the bottom’, in reference to neo-liberal practice of lowering working class expectations to suit the prevailing demands of capitalist priority.
Abortion on demand as an alternative to providing a benevolent society arguably represents a ‘race to the bottom’ and for Socialists to ignore this contradiction in their position, by reference to class neutral concepts of ‘choice’ and defensive accusations of misogyny, misplaced sentimentality and religious guilt arguably represents a serious retreat on their behalf.