When we’re deciding whether or not to have children, where and how to bring them up, when, and with whom, we’re influenced by social forces which are outside our control. These social forces influence who has more freedom to make these choices, according to how they want to live. For everybody to enjoy this freedom, for reproductive justice, we require access to legal abortion, free childcare, healthcare and education, the ability to leave an abusive relationship, stable housing and secure, well paid jobs.
Recently we’ve seen increased repression of reproductive justice around the world. The most obvious example of this is attacks on access to abortion. In 2016, the Polish government attempted to pass legislation which would ban abortion in all circumstances. They were forced to back down after a strike by thousands of women across the country. In the USA, it seems attempts to end funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as well as other reproductive healthcare services to people on low incomes, will be successful. Here in the UK, abortion clinics are being targeted for harassment by anti-choice religious groups and right-wing newspapers.
So why are things getting worse now? Since 2008, governments across Europe and in the USA have been using the financial crisis to impose harsh austerity measures on the working class people least responsible for, but most harmed by, the crash. Times of austerity are often marked by increased social conservatism, which sees the right contesting elections by promising to defend ‘traditional family values’. But these right-wingers are talking about defending a very specific type of family — a white, heterosexual, wealthy couple who can afford to pay for childcare and own a home in an area with well-funded schools and hospitals.
Whilst our bosses, landlords and MPs are protected from the effects of austerity measures, working class people in the UK are struggling to raise their families in the face of cuts to the services they are forced to rely on. Since 2010, 763 Sure Start children’s centres have closed. 34 domestic violence refuges have closed, and Rape Crisis has a budget shortfall of £10 million. Combined with cuts to benefits, this leaves victims of gendered violence trapped in dangerous relationships and homes. Companies like Sports Direct, who use zero-hour contracts and pay poverty wages, leave many families without a reliable income. Schools in Derbyshire, near the Sports Direct depot, reported children coming in to school even when sick, because their parents were afraid that taking time off to care for them would result in their hours being cut. With more people than ever living in rented accommodation, rip-off rents mean that families are living in poor quality, precarious housing, or are being discouraged from having children altogether. In the north and south of Ireland, it is working class cis women, non-binary and trans people who cannot afford to travel to England for a safe, legal abortion.
These problems are compounded for migrants, who are now at risk from increased gate-keeping in the NHS. After a trial at St George’s Hospital, 20 NHS hospitals will require a passport and utility bill before treating patients, leaving migrants with precarious status or no papers without access to sexual health and maternity services. Migrants also face the constant threat of deportations which leave families divided across continents.
We cannot rely on the state to protect our reproductive freedoms. In the face of these attacks on our everyday lives, on our choices and our families, we must build working class solidarity. We need to work together to defend our local abortion clinics from harassment by bigots, resist immigration raids which violently split up migrant families and stand up to fascists when they attack our communities. We should support doctors who refuse to check the immigration status of their patients and make sure other parents know that they aren’t required to give schools census information about the ethnicity of their children. We should be active in our unions and workplaces, organising against precarious work and low wages with our migrant fellow workers. In the fight for control over our bodies and our lives, we can only win if we stand together as a class.