Abortion: Bodily Autonomy, Capitalism, Misogyny


In this society we are told that we have certain rights; the right to vote, the right to protest, the right to bodily autonomy (i.e. the right to decide what happens to our bodies). All of these rights can be taken away in a flash at the whim of those in power. But you cannot take away from a pregnant person that which they don’t have: bodily autonomy.

Abortion is extremely restrictive on this island, with the southern state not acting on the prohibitive legislation that is in place – as was highlighted with Ms. Y in August 2014 – and the northern state only allowing abortion when the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life (read: not health).

Let’s be clear. Banning abortion does not stop abortions, all it does is make abortion harder to access, and in the cases of 47,000 women a year this results in death through unsafe abortions. We cannot ignore the element of classism in this ban; for wealthy women it is a mere inconvenience. For a working class woman or even a migrant woman the situation takes another form altogether. The ban also shows the racist element involved as some migrant women may not be able to travel abroad for the abortion as is the case in the south of Ireland with those in Direct Provision centres. Not to mention the mental trauma that can come from being trapped in an unwanted pregnancy, when you have all of these factors to consider it is no wonder that the most common emotion felt after an abortion is relief.

When you deny a pregnant person the right to choose you are telling them that the “right to life” of a foetus – something that hasn’t even experienced life yet – is more important than their life. You reduce them down to mere incubators. Birth control (including abortion) is essential for the emancipation of women, especially from our designated gender role of an incubator.

It’s quite clear that as soon as a person becomes pregnant their bodily autonomy virtually disappears; let’s explore this a bit more. If my sister was involved in a fatal accident and she urgently needed a blood transfusion to survive and I was the only person who matched her blood type, legally I cannot be forced to give her my blood, even though it would save her life; I have bodily autonomy and can decide if my blood is taken or not. The same is true when you die; no matter how many people your organs would save, unless you have previously consented to it your organs cannot be touched. But everyday women are forced to give up their bodies for 9 months against their will in a physical state that results in death 14 times more often than abortion does. There is something wrong with a corpse having more bodily autonomy than a pregnant person and this cannot be denied.

You do not have to like abortions, you do not have to get one yourself, but you should not have the right to decide what another person, in most cases a stranger, chooses to do with their own body. Motherhood should not be a given for women, rather it should be “Voluntary Motherhood” as 19th century feminists called it when the battle for birth control first began.

A comprehensive study of abortion cannot be done, however, without focusing on reproductive labour. The state has always had a vested interest in social reproduction, especially in the case of colonization – this cannot be made starker but in the case of the north of Ireland where abortion on demand is still illegal compared to the rest of the UK, only highlighting furthermore that the colonizers do not care about the colonized, otherwise they would bestow upon pregnant people in the north the same rights that can be availed of across the water

Banning abortion can be seen as the guarantee of labour supply in the same way that birth control or a fall in the birth rate can be seen as “resistance to the capitalist discipline of work” (Silvia Federici).

We also cannot engage in a discourse on abortion without talking about reproductive freedom i.e. the right to raise a child if you so wish or to have an abortion, etc. It should not be a privilege to be able to bring a child into this world and raise them outside of poverty; it should be an irrevocable right. While it is not good enough that some women cannot even afford an abortion let alone a child, the abortion movement should not ignore the rights of poor women when it argues that an abortion is cheaper than welfare for a child – this is a disgusting disservice to the most vulnerable in the movement. We must not drop "free” from our demand for abortion that is “Free, Safe, Legal and On Demand”.

It is important to understand what comprises the obstacles for abortion rights: the church and the predominantly misogynist law makers. While the church is quick to talk about how “He gave us free-will” this logic does not extend to pregnant people. It is unacceptable that it is predominantly men who dictate our reproductive choice, and in the case of the church, celibate men. They will never be in a position where they need an abortion; they will never understand the sheer desperation and fear experienced when someone is in a crisis pregnancy. We must disobey them and their misogynistic laws and change them the only way we can: through direct action. By ordering pills online and distributing to those who need them, by sharing abortion information and by donating to the abortion support network.

The right to an abortion is the corner stone of women’s control in this increasingly anti-woman society. In countries where abortion has been legalised the abortion movement has changed character from offensive to defensive and while we live in this white supremacist, capitalist, hetero-patriarchy we must always defend any progress made. When we achieve abortion rights on this island we must not rely on the police to keep the clinics, the workers and the equipment safe from the extremists of the anti-choice movement, we must not rely on the courts to preserve the right to abortion as this would make us complicit in a system that we know to be oppressive; the point is to change it.