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The commodification of birthing bodies under capitalism

Canada Post-Roe

“The unborn are a convenient group of people to advocate for. 

You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone.”

(David Barnhart)

The 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade served as a reminder that in Canada, abortion is not codified into law. 

The timeline of abortion rights in Canada is long and complex. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that criminalizing abortion violated section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the right to “life, liberty and security of a person.” 

While abortion is still legal in Canada, access remains deeply unequal and varies by province

Prince Edward Island limits abortion access after 12 weeks, or three months, compared to later restrictions in other provinces. Many Canadians have to travel to access the healthcare they need. In response to this, community advocates have worked to increase access to the medication abortion mifepristone. A 2023 study shows 85.3 per cent of recruited pharmacists perceived that this increased access offers the benefit of reduced pressure on the healthcare system. 84.4 per cent saw a benefit of increased access for rural and remote patients. 

In Canada, coercive anti-choice centers, or Crisis Pregnancy Centers, outnumber abortion providers

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has designated all Progressive Conservative Members of Parliament as anti-choice, after a unanimous vote in support of Bill C-311 in June 2023. Bill C-311 is believed to be a trojan horse for anti-choice agendas, promoting “fetal rights” which could lead to criminalizing abortion.  

What’s Capitalism got to do with it? 

I grew up non-consensually in a Baptist Christian school and church, so I’m deeply familiar with the religious anti-choice, “pro-life,” rhetoric. Yet, when critically examined, the New Testament scripture does not explicitly prohibit terminating an unwanted pregnancy. 

What is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament is the importance of loving thy neighbour.

Screaming obscenities at people entering abortion clinics, or preventing people from accessing life-changing and life-saving healthcare, is not exactly representative of Christ’s love. 

The criminalization of reproductive rights is founded on more than just a moral or religious concern. Tracing the history of abortion laws back to feudal Europe, it becomes obvious that the church and the state’s stances on reproductive healthcare conveniently changed alongside the flux and flow of the free market. 

Abortion was criminalized during periods when an influx of serfs was needed to maintain the production of the land and decriminalized when the population was overcrowded or under-resourced

Similar to the feudal times, the church today profits from its relationship with the state. The church controls the people through fear of eternal damnation, and the state encodes their agenda into law, in exchange for lobbying support. 

Is there really any difference between feudal churches putting a literal price on salvation while adorned in jewels and modern day pastors owning multiple homes and private jets

State-enforced gender inequality is proven to directly reduce opportunities for women and gender-non-conforming people’s economic independence. Removing the rights of marginalized people subsequently enhances the likelihood they will be objectified as less-than-human and treated more like a commodity to be purchased, owned and controlled. 

In early capitalism, this commodification looked like marriage contracts, wherein men could pass down private property and wealth through coercive reproduction. 

When examined critically, women and people who give birth were forced to remain entirely responsible for social reproduction – the maintenance of the home and family. 

Women were viewed as “complementary” to men, as mothers, carers and helpmeets, rather than “independent fellow citizens with equal rights”. 

It’s not a coincidence that the legalization of the contraceptive pill and abortion in the late 20th century aligned with second wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement.

As the fear of the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy waned, women and people who can get pregnant had access to economic and social freedoms unlike ever before. No longer were they forced to only participate in the social reproduction of the home. No longer were their bodies commodified as birthing machines or housekeepers. 

Let’s not Return to Feudal Europe

The overturning of Roe v. Wade, the lack of accessible reproductive healthcare in Canada and the continued attacks on the bodily autonomy of women and gender-non-conforming people on this continent is inarguably connected to an attempt to re-commodify birthing bodies.

This can be seen in the ongoing moral panic across North America towards drag queens, gender affirming care and accessible and inclusive gender and sexual health education in schools. 

Until the structure of our political economy changes, we will continue to ride the merry-go-round of precarious access to healthcare and education.

Fear is perhaps the strongest motivator; the manipulation of citizens by mega-churches dripping in wealth supported by the state must cease. Ignorance must be eradicated early through the continued support of inclusive, comprehensive gender and sexual healthcare in schools. 

Capitalism requires inequality to sustain itself. The one percent cannot climb to the top if the 99 percent are emancipated. We must come together and demand our liberation. 

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