Several weeks ago, Bernie Sanders wrote an op-ed urging Democrats to focus less on abortion and more on the economy as the midterm elections approached. The Vermont socialist suggested that the really important and concrete problems facing ordinary Americans have more to do with low wages, loss of workplace representation, the decline of the middle class, and the like.

Many in the pro-abortion-rights camp disagreed. The Huffington Post, for example, published a rebuke, drawing attention to the close connection between abortion and the economy: “Framing abortion as a culture war issue, separate from bread-and-butter economics, erases the very real experiences of tens of millions of women and people with the capacity for pregnancy in the United States.”

Although the point was being made from the perspective of pro-abortion-rights ideology, it can equally be appreciated from the pro-life side—that is, so long as pro-lifers are prepared to examine the role of abortion in our political economy. The Huffington Post piece observed that abortion makes it possible for women to participate in the labor force. The article quoted Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen, who in May stated that “Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor-force participation and enabled many women to finish school.” In other words, abortion not only frees women from the burdens of poverty created by childrearing, but also “frees” them to participate more fully in the capitalist institution of wage labor.

In Marxist terms, abortion serves to augment the labor power and extend the labor time women are able to contribute to the production process. In capitalist society, what Marx calls surplus value, the basis of profit, is derived only from the expenditure of surplus labor time, which capital is therefore compelled to extend to a maximum. It follows that, to extend the amount of labor time which women in particular might contribute to capital, they should be “freed” from the responsibility of raising children. Abortion functions as one of a suite of instruments that serve this purpose.

Get the best of Compact right in your inbox.

Sign up for our free newsletter today.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link.
Sorry, something went wrong. Please try again.