In this International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) panel on February 8, Mytheli Sreenivas, Sarah Rodriguez and Jenny Brown discuss reproductive politics in the U.S., India and China. View here.
Author Jenny Brown
Why Capitalists Care About Our Record-Low Birth Rate
The corporate elite cares about anti-abortion policies because they hope to lower the price of labor — the labor of bearing and rearing children.
The United States is a particularly hostile environment for parenting. Workers face long hours, inadequate pay, unreliable health care, overpriced housing, paltry unpaid leave, and childcare that can eat a whole paycheck. As a result, the US birth rate is now at a record low of 1.64 children per woman, considerably below replacement.
When Western Europe faced dramatic declines in births in the 1970s, governments instituted universal childcare, long paid family leaves (up to a year), and substantial child allowance checks, on top of free health care. But in the United States, the working class has little political representation, so the costs of bearing and rearing children are largely borne by families. Instead of support, we have faced a cheaper, meaner pronatalism: reproductive coercion.
Paul Heideman argued recently that the corporate class is unconcerned about the birth rate, and that abortion is essentially a fight between ordinary people. In fact, business interests have a huge stake in the outcome of reproductive politics. The fight over abortion is a fight over the labor of reproducing society — and barriers to reproductive control have always been about exploiting this work.
Heideman is right that low birth rates don’t decrease labor supply or increase wages in the short run, something Karl Marx pointed out in the 1860s. But capitalists absolutely have a long-term class interest in an increasing US population. The Financial Times ran a five-part “Baby Bust,” series in April. Just this month, a front-page FT headline blared: “Lowest global population growth since 1950 raises economy fears.” Two-thirds of the world lives in countries with below-replacement birth rates, the story noted, and Europe’s population is now shrinking. “Unless you get a productivity miracle,” Charles Goodhart of the London School of Economics told the paper, “overall economic growth will fall.” And William Galston of the Brookings Institution claims that in the United States, “the principal driver of slow growth since 2008 has been a sharp slowdown in the growth of the labor supply.”Continue reading “Why Capitalists Care About Our Record-Low Birth Rate”
FDA Increases Abortion Pill Access, Now What?
Decades of abortion rights organizing led to the FDA’s recent decision to loosen regulations on abortion pills. Now we have to organize to protect these gains and fight for more.
[From The Call.] There is some good news on the abortion front. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has loosened its rules governing abortion pills. The FDA announced in December that it would no longer require the pills to be dispensed in person, meaning patients can receive pills in the mail after a phone consultation with a practitioner. The FDA limited this possibility to pregnancies of 10 weeks gestation or less.
It has taken decades of abortion rights organizing, medical studies, and lawsuits to get us to this point. Perhaps the most radical public action yet on abortion pills occurred in front of the Supreme Court on December 1, the day of the hearing about the Mississippi case. There, several Shout Your Abortion militants publicly took mifepristone to demonstrate its safety and spread the word about its availability. There’s a compelling video here. Across the country they dropped banners, painted murals, and even set up an Abortion Pill vending machine that dispensed information about how to get pills.
Actions like these, plus a pending ACLU lawsuit, reinforced the work medical researchers have been doing over the last decade to show that the FDA’s restrictions are unnecessary and harmful.Continue reading “FDA Increases Abortion Pill Access, Now What?”
Take Abortion Out of the Court’s Hands
Abortion rights shouldn’t be at the mercy of the judiciary. We need federal legislation codifying Roe v. Wade — and Democrats need to buck up and eliminate the filibuster to pass it.
The Supreme Court’s December 1 hearing on Mississippi’s fifteen-week abortion ban confirmed what everyone had already guessed: anti-abortion justices will throw abortion rights on the scrap heap when they hand down their decision next summer.
The three judges who support abortion rights were reduced to appealing to the court’s reputation. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked early in the hearing.
Chief Justice John Roberts, perhaps the only anti-abortion justice concerned with preserving the court’s legitimacy, querulously noted that only the fifteen-week ban, not banning abortion as a whole, was before the court. The five other hard-right appointees clearly don’t care.
That distinction is technical anyway. The Mississippi law bans abortion at and after fifteen weeks, but if the court rubber-stamps the law, it will break up the legal regime set up by Roe v. Wade and later decisions that prevents states from substantially hampering access before viability, now twenty-two to twenty-four weeks. If the court blows away that standard, anti-abortion state governments can argue that any pre-viability ban is allowable.
The cautious route would be to leave the Mississippi law intact and let other states appeal their six-week bans and outright bans. But aside from Roberts, the court’s anti-abortion majority appears to have no interest in gradualism.
If the court allows outright bans, those laws will immediately go into effect in twenty-one states. In the South, only Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia have no post-Roe bans in place. According to a Guttmacher Institute analysis, twenty-six states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if the court permits it.
With the situation sharpening into focus, it’s tempting to feel hopeless. But despair isn’t an option. Instead, we should think more creatively and expansively about how to secure and protect abortion access throughout the country, beginning with the question of why our abortion rights are at the mercy of the judiciary in the first place.
See the rest of the article at Jacobin.
It’s Time for a Federal Abortion Rights Law
The Supreme Court is useless. Now is the perfect time for feminists to campaign to end the filibuster and pass a federal law codifying abortion rights.
Reprinted from Jacobin. The Supreme Court on Thursday allowed Texas to ban abortions at six weeks, before most pregnancies are detected. To enforce their compulsory childbirth law, the Texas legislature encourages anti-abortion activists to sue Texans who provide (or give themselves) abortions after six weeks.
To listen to the pundits, you’d think there’s nothing that can be done. But our reproductive freedom is not at the mercy of this unelected panel of anti-abortion justices. In fact, Congress could pass a law making abortion legal and available throughout the United States, and there’s not much the Supreme Court or the Texas legislature could do about it.
The Women’s Health Protection Act, which makes it illegal for states to restrict abortion before viability, has been introduced in Congress starting in 2013. The law is based on federal rights to regulate commerce and the liberties and equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Polls show 61 percent of people support it.
The anti-abortion right has long argued that there is no right to abortion in the US Constitution. And it’s true: when the Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973, the justices detected abortion rights within the charter’s general rights to freedom from government interference. The Court found abortion rights there in response to an upsurge of women’s liberation organizing and lawsuits — and the very real possibility that abortion laws would be vacated by lower courts, leaving the country with no abortion restrictions at all.
But neither is there anything restricting abortion in the Constitution. In 1789, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, there were no laws against abortion until “quickening,” around eighteen or twenty weeks, when you can feel the fetus move. This is why anti-abortion groups have been trying for decades to get an abortion prohibition into the Constitution through a “human life” amendment.
At the urging of feminists, abortion rights have codified in New York, California, Illinois, and several smaller blue states. But no legislation has been seriously attempted on the federal level.
Democrats in Congress could have pushed through a law codifying the right to abortion anytime they had a majority in the last few decades, but they never prioritized it. As abortion access winked out in state after state, the cry has been “Save Roe!” as though the Court were the only place these rights could be protected. “Remember the Supreme Court,” they told feminists every election year. That’s no longer a viable election strategy, as the Court is now six to three against abortion.
This puts establishment Democrats in an awkward position. As they sold out our welfare programs, health care, labor rights, schools, and even put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block during the Clinton and Obama years, defense of abortion has become one of their last remaining unique selling propositions. If they don’t act now, they risk losing another constituency.
It’s possible the Court has overplayed its hand. In response to its actions, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to bring up the Women’s Health Protection Act when Congress reconvenes in mid-September. Currently, every Democrat in the Senate is a cosponsor except Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Bob Casey (Pennsylvania). Even Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) supports the bill. No Republicans have signed on, though Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) nominally support abortion rights.
Could it pass? In the House, maybe, but never in the Senate, we’re told, because of the filibuster — the same reason we can’t win labor law reform, voting rights, a Green New Deal, a higher minimum wage, or universal health care.
Feminists must demand an end to the filibuster. The Right has no compunction about changing the rules when they think they can benefit: In 2017, they ended the filibuster for Supreme Court appointments, which is why the court is now packed with right-wingers.
There’s now a pile of important legislation blocked up behind the filibuster, and a lengthening list of constituencies who want it ended. The Court’s brash move on abortion could add a big constituency to that list if movement activists and political leaders make a strong case for it. A popular campaign to end the filibuster to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act is within reach right now. For example, New York senator Kristen Gillibrand called for exactly that in response to the Court’s decision.
Unless we force them to act, support for the Women’s Health Protection Act could become yet another empty gesture by Democrats. They can’t hide behind the Court anymore, but they can still hide behind the filibuster. A campaign to end the filibuster in order to actually pass the law would force Democrats to take a stand, and expose those who refuse as supporters of forced childbirth.
The Women’s March and several other feminist and reproductive justice groups have signed onto a mobilization on October 2, with marches in every state, just before the Supreme Court starts its fall term, with abortion on the docket. But the Court is not the right target at this point. Activists should turn our attention to Congress and take the planned mobilization as an occasion to pressure those who aren’t yet on board. And since the Women’s Health Protection Act does not address abortion funding, we should also clearly demand Medicare for All, which includes full payment for all abortion and birth control options.
Above all, we should remember that it was feminist agitation that won us the rights we have in the first place. No court gave them to us. They were secured in the context of a general upsurge on the Left. With the Court’s decision causing outrage across the nation, now is the time for another offensive, this time focused on ending the filibuster and codifying the right to abortion in law.
Who’s Afraid of the Lower Birth Rate? (from Organizing Upgrade)
For the first time since the dawn of the capitalist system, most of humanity is experiencing below-replacement birth rates, and some countries, such as Japan and Korea, are starting to see declining populations as a result. In others, like the U.S., immigration rather than native reproduction is responsible for population growth. This fundamental shift has implications for our organizing, but it is almost never discussed among activists.
It is, however, a big topic in corporate thinktanks and journals. The London-based Financial Times has been ramping up panic with recent headlines: “Demographic time-bomb threatens growth in Europe,” “Italy’s plunging birth rate generates alarm,” and “Falling birth rate creates economic time bomb for Beijing.” In the U.S., the American Enterprise Institute published “Declining Fertility in America,” a 2018 report depicting a row of empty bassinets on the cover. Inside, Lyman Stone frets about the decline in demand for housing and other products, and the alleged danger to Social Security and Medicare caused by an aging society.
Why are these establishment entities worried? Until now, capitalism has depended on population growth as an underlying driver of economic growth. More people mean larger markets and abundant workers, and an ever-larger cohort of young people supporting those no longer able to work. Lots of young people makes it easy to staff militaries. But with stable or falling populations, economic stagnation, such as that which afflicted Japan for a decade, limits opportunities to profit. And establishment think tanks worry about how to fund Social Security without taxing the rich.
Capitalist systems have responded to lower birth rates with three general strategies. The first is to try to suppress women’s control over reproduction and promote traditional family arrangements. Typically we’ve seen blockages to abortion, obstacles to contraception, and low-information sex education. The second route, which had seeds in the 19th century but reached its peak in the 21st century in such countries as France and Sweden, has been to dedicate substantial resources to making it easier for working class parents, and women in particular, to have and raise kids. The third strategy is to import people from other countries, which I’ll address below.
Capitalist anxiety over falling birth rates may explain why the last decade has been characterized by intense attacks on abortion, birth control, immigration, and Social Security. We can counter these attacks more effectively if we understand where they are coming from.
Jewish Currents: It’s Time to Re-Radicalize the Abortion Movement
THE SUPREME COURT gave us abortion rights, and it can take them away. This is the fallacy at the heart of the uproar following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s true that the situation is dire. Donald Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, will likely join five other anti-abortion ideologues on the Court in permitting states to restrict or ban abortion. Ten states already have laws triggering a ban if the Court permits it.
But we shouldn’t despair. The real power lies with the people, not the Court. The Women’s Liberation Movement raised consciousness, raised hell, and raised the banner for “Free Abortion on Demand” when abortion was illegal in all 50 states and considered criminal by the vast majority of the population. It was their organizing, not a wise and sympathetic bench, that led to the legalization of abortion nationally in 1973 with Roe v. Wade. We can start winning again if we rebuild our movement around the radical principles that forced the court to legalize abortion in the first place.
Red May: Birth Strike
Katherine Armitage discussed Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work with Jenny Brown on April 28, 2020 as part of Red May Seattle Online (replacing the original plan to do this in person!). Replay it at the link.
Jacobin ‘Stay at Home’ Webcast
On the Jacobin webcast series “Stay At Home,” Jenny Brown discusses her book Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now, and why we cannot rely on NGOs to protect or expand abortion rights. Includes a critique of NGO-style abortion rights advertising and shows three remarkable ads as examples. Originally webcast April 15, 2020. The book is available from Jacobin here.
“Stay Home and Have the Baby”
Texas and Ohio have ordered a stop to abortions, saying they’re not essential medical services, while state officials in Mississippi and Maryland are edging that direction. Their coronavirus prevention program is “Stay home and have the baby.”The states argued that equipment such as masks used for surgical abortions could be used for care of COVID-19 patients. And they claim if anything goes wrong emergency services would be needed, exaggerating the risk of a safe procedure.
Abortion clinics in Texas sued to halt the ban, and in Ohio, where the order was less clear, they argue they’re already complying since abortions fall under the essential category. Clinics are backed up by leading OB-GYN doctor groups, which saw this attack coming and specified on March 18, “Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible.”
Of course, it’s not about masks. Anti-abortion forces are using the pandemic as a pretext, but it’s an extraordinarily poor one, since they’ve spent twenty years blocking the at-home and telemedicine pill abortions that would be useful now.