Pro-Choice Vs. No Choice:  Planned Parenthood and the Class War Against Poor Women and Trans people’s Health

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Red League Statement on the Defunding of Planned Parenthood

The recent attack to defund and eliminate Planned Parenthood clinics is not new or surprising to poor and working-class women, particularly women of color. Planned Parenthood has been on the defense for the most part of its existence. In last twenty years, more than 200 clinics have closed down across the United States. The war against access to free reproductive services is part of the ongoing war against free and affordable access to health care. Under capitalism, poor, immigrant, working women, & trans people, and families have repeatedly organized and struggled against the ruling class and the state in order to combat oppressive and sexist domination of their bodies, and gain access to free and quality healthcare for their communities.

Planned Parenthood is recognized as one of the main providers of healthcare to poor women and other poor people. Despite the critical life-saving services it provides, Planned Parenthood remains under attack.   When we consider the sexist and exploitative climate Planned Parenthood has existed in, along with the right-wing politics that attacks access to reproductive health services, this might seem natural or obvious. But looked at another way, we might ask why is it that Planned Parenthood, which has spent decades fighting for reproductive rights, is still having difficulty keeping the important gains it’s made in delivering basic tools for women’s liberation of their bodies and sexual independence.

We argue that Planned Parenthood remains constantly under attack because it promotes the right to abortion as strictly a matter of having the freedom to “choose”, ignoring that working-class women under capitalist and sexist pressures often have no or very limited choices. Planned Parenthood and the demand for affordable health care will also remain under attack because under a capitalist society, health care is an industry oriented towards profit. Business owners and owners of hospitals, clinics, and treatment facilities — capitalists— care more about making money than they care about the health of women or anyone. Planned Parenthood, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) or non-profit, serves to accommodate capitalism rather than to challenge it.

The Pro Choice Campaign as Liberal and Ruling-Class Feminism

Planned Parenthood and both liberal and conservative leaders in reproductive rights campaigns continue to narrow abortion to a debate on the “morality” of choices that individuals, in particular women, make. This should come as no surprise. Under capitalism, we are taught to understand that nearly all of the issues that affect us are a matter of “choices” we make and not a matter of the realities of lowering wages, lack of jobs, rising rent, rising price of food and education, etc. Working-class women of color, however, have known for decades that abortion is not simply about the “right” choice or “freedom”, as liberal feminists and the right-wing argue. They know it is a decision shaped by a future of raising children inside the home while working outside of the home in jobs that barely provide and a society in which being on welfare is treated as a crime. The experiences of forced sterilization of poor Black, Latina, and Asian women throughout the 60s-80s, along with the multiple programs to combat “overpopulation” which targeted working-class people-of-color communities, have also served as lessons of the racism and sexism that has accompanied liberal “pro-choice” propaganda in our society.

We also see this liberalism in the form of Planned Parenthood providing services primarily to women and leading the feminist struggle only in the arena of (cis) women’s reproductive rights, often sidelining, until recently, poor queer/trans people who struggle even more to access appropriate and quality healthcare.

Planned Parenthood: non-profits do not challenge capitalism

Planned Parenthood’s political weakness is rooted in a health care industry built for profit, not health provisions. Non-profits, non-governmental-organizations (NGOs), or “community-based” organizations, have traditionally fought for the working-class to have the right to these necessities that secure better stability in working communities. NGOs like Planned Parenthood in an attempt to provide this seek bureaucratic solutions to problems facing working communities rather organizing them and building political power. By shifting the focus away from organizing, they leave themselves isolated and vulnerable to attacks and funding shortages. To protect themselves from lack of funding and political attacks they must seek out alliances with businesses, foundations and politicians, and weaken their goals and political vision. For those who run NGOs, the NGO becomes a career opportunity that needs to be protected at all cost. As the constant struggle for funding and protection goes on, these individuals, whose interests are to merely to maintain the organization, either do nothing to prevent the decay of the organization or often encourage it. For these reasons NGOs are incapable of achieving even their original stated goals and cannot provide a path to challenging capitalism and building working-class power.

Our Demands as Communists Who Struggle for a Classless Society

Our upbringing in U.S. society would have us believe that communism and socialism is this “bad”, “authoritarian”, control-freak society and that the Soviet Union and China are prime examples of how bad communism can get. The truth is communists and socialist revolutionaries have fought hard in history to win both basic and complete necessities that capitalism denies to the people who work to produce everything we use and rely on in our daily lives. In 1970s, working-class, communist and socialist women and men, revolutionary feminists, and queer/trans women and men helped to form the Committee for Abortion Rights and Sterilization Abuse (CARASA) and the Committee to End Sterilization Abuse (CESA) to fight the feminist struggle in reproductive rights and fight against conservative laws such as the Hyde Amendment, which limited federal funding for abortions. They also demanded welfare rights, workplace safety, subsidized child care for poor women, and the right to adequate housing amongst other topics.

As communists and revolutionaries, we must learn from the past and understand that these struggles don’t and can’t exist in isolation. Women’s and LGBT healthcare can no longer be separate from healthcare in general. Abortion must be available on demand. We demand that everyone—regardless of gender identity, sexuality, and race — have free access to all forms and types of health services and education. We demand free clinics and free access to hospitals. We oppose any and all attacks on Planned Parenthood as they stand in direct opposition to our demands.

Further Readings

On Planned Parenthood:
“The War on Planned Parenthood Is Also an Assault on Poor Women of Color” – Michelle Chen
“Opposition Claims About Margaret Sanger” – Planned Parenthood

Non-Profits and Capitalism:
“The Third Sector as a Protective Layer for Capitalism” – Joan Roelofs
“Nonprofits, Privatization and Capitalism” – Shamus Cooke
The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (Introduction) – Andrea Smith

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