Workers Vanguard No. 877
29 September 2006
For Free Abortion on Demand, Including for Teens!
Coming of Age in the U.S.A.—Sex, Fear and Religious Reaction
(Young Spartacus pages)
As if going through adolescence werent already difficult enough, the capitalist class and its state continue to make things worse by intervening in the most intimate and fraught part of coming of age: sex. From repressive legislation to abstinence only moralism masquerading as sex education, the church and the state seek to instill fear and loathing about sex in young people. Attacks on the rights of youth to engage in sex and to have access to contraception and abortion serve as a spearhead for broader anti-woman and anti-sex assaults.
In July, the U.S. Senate passed the Child Custody Protection Act. If it becomes law, a person who helps a minor escape parental notification laws by taking her across state lines to obtain an abortion will face federal charges for, according to George W. Bush, jeopardiz[ing] the lives of young women (New York Times, 26 July). The law would intensify the witchhunting climate and increase the powers of the state to go after young women and abortion providers, who already face anti-abortion harassment and murderous terror.
The Spartacus Youth Clubs oppose this law and all laws restricting abortion rights for women, including teenagers. As we wrote in Defend Abortion Rights! Free Abortion on Demand! (WV No. 750, 19 January 2001):
Abortion is a politically explosive issue because it raises the question of the equality of women. This simple and safe medical procedure provides women with some control over whether or not to have children. For this reason it is viewed as a threat to the institution of the family which is a crucial prop for the system of capitalist exploitation.
In California, Proposition 85, an amended version of the Proposition 73 squeal rule law that was defeated at the polls last year, is on the ballot for November. It would mandate that parents be notified 48 hours in advance of a minor having an abortion. These squeal rules not only violate a young womans privacy, but also give parents control over life-shaping decisions that young women should be allowed to make on their own. The SYCs uphold the right to abortion as a necessary measure for womens health and well-being. It is only by the twisted logic of the church and state that a teenager is better off being forced to have a baby.
A 7 May article in the New York Times Magazine by Russell Shorto called Contra-Contraception details the campaign against contraception not only by the Catholic church, but also increasing numbers of fundamentalist Protestants who have embraced the Vaticans view that both contraception and abortion are verboten because they prevent procreation. As Marxists, we understand that both contraception and abortion are simply means of birth control, which should be made freely accessible through the fight for free, quality health care for all.
The morning-after pill (Plan B), highly effective in preventing pregnancy for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, has been declared safe by scientists across the board. Yet its approval for over-the-counter sales by the Food and Drug Administration was blocked for three years under pressure from religious and political forces. Even now, women under 18, who have the hardest time getting contraception, will not be able to get the morning-after pill without a prescription!
The Holy Trinity: Family, Church and State
The very important development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which would protect women from a virus that is the primary cause of cervical cancer, was accompanied by an outcry from Christian right-wingers like Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council who howled: Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence [sic] to engage in premarital sex. In other words, these pro-life reactionaries would rather see young women die than have sex. Similar to religious nuts who say that AIDS is a punishment for promiscuity or homosexuality, most of what passes for sex education these days presents pregnancy or some loathsome disease as the punishment for teenagers who disobey the no-sex-before-marriage rule. Using fear and ignorance to try to prevent youth from acting on the biological urge to experience sexual pleasure is as old as the claim that masturbation causes blindness.
Why is the ruling class so worried about what we do in our bedrooms? Because they seek to strengthen the institution of the family, a key prop for capitalism. This institution is also the main source of the oppression of women and youth. The institution of the family arose with the advent of private property as a mechanism for transmitting wealth to legitimate offspring through inheritance. Guaranteeing the paternity of the heir required that the woman, not the man, be chaste before marriage and monogamous during it. The oppression of women is rooted in this social subordination, which is also expressed in the foisting of the burden of child-rearing and housework onto women in individual family units.
The institution of the family also serves as the bedrock of social conservatism, which the bourgeoisie uses to instill obedience to authority. This is why it is upheld as the norm even for the working class, which has little or no property to hand down. Together with religion, the family promotes a puritanical morality based on the repression of anything that deviates from the family ideal—from pre-marital to gay sex. Adults are driven to be fearful and docile, and children obedient and often guilt-ridden. This helps ensure that the capitalists have pliant workers to exploit and youth willing to die for God and country in imperialist wars.
Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Teens Do It
One cannot deny that teenagers have sex, just as one cannot deny the obvious changes that a persons body goes through during puberty. Despite centuries of church- and state-imposed deterrents, from the threat of burning eternally in hell to hellish punishments on earth like death by stoning, promiscuous and gay sex have been prevalent throughout the ages.
Abstinence until marriage, then one partner for life is a norm that is at odds with the makeup of the human animal: just look at the themes of the most popular TV shows, hit songs, novels, movies and Web sites, not to mention the fact that prostitution is a thriving business. In a very insightful chapter of the book Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality, Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) uses a comparison between humans and other animals to make the point that sex among humans has a social purpose other than procreation. As opposed to most other group-living mammals who engage in sex only during the females blatantly advertised period of ovulation:
In fact, we humans are the ones whose scarcely detectable ovulations make us members of a small minority in the animal world....
Were also bizarre in our nearly continuous practice of sex, a behavior that is a direct consequence of our concealed ovulations. Most other animal species confine sex to a brief estrous period around the advertised time of ovulation.
What people choose to do for fun with their own bodies, with or without the aim of procreation, should be no business of the capitalist state. As we say in the Programmatic Statement of the Spartacist League/U.S.: We oppose all laws which enable the bourgeois state to regulate the consensual sexual activity of youth and to exercise social control under the guise of protecting children. The SYCs take no position on what age a person should or should not have sex. We are opposed to arbitrary age of consent laws, which conflate consensual sex with violent crimes. We advocate the concept of effective consent, which means that as long as both parties consent to the act, nobody, least of all the state, has any right to tell them they cant do it.
That age of consent laws are used to punish youth, and not to protect children, is shown graphically by the case of Matthew Koso, who was sentenced earlier this year to 18 to 30 months in prison by a Nebraska judge for first-degree sexual assault. His crime? Koso, who is now 23, began having sex with his then 13-year-old girlfriend when he was 21. After she became pregnant, they were married with the consent of her mother under Kansas law. This made no difference to the judge who complained about the repetition of offenses because Koso was breaking the law by sleeping with his wife! Now he sits in prison while she is left to care for their baby. Free Matthew Koso!
It is not only the sex police that make life miserable for youth, but also the guardians of moral order who denounce homosexuality because it strays from the bourgeois model of one man on one woman for life. As shown in a recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, anti-gay attacks are a daily part of life for gay, lesbian and transgender youth: nearly two-thirds reported feeling unsafe at school, over a third experienced physical harassment and nearly a fifth were assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Religious reaction paves the way for murderous anti-gay terror, such as the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard in 1998 and Gwen Araujo in 2002. The SYCs oppose all forms of anti-gay bigotry and fight for full democratic rights for gay people.
Bourgeois triumphalism over the supposed death of communism in the wake of the destruction of the Soviet Union has fueled a massive growth in religious reaction and anti-science superstition. The Christian fundamentalists want to force their stifling morality on everyone, taking their anti-evolution, pro-prayer and abstinence only campaigns to the schools. Youth should be given comprehensive, science-based sex education. Instead the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on abstinence programs. As Marx once said, ignorance never helped nor did anybody any good. Take a look at Lubbock, Texas, a district with an abstinence only sex education policy, the subject of a documentary called The Education of Shelby Knox. It shows a popular preacher telling high school youth that if they have sex they will get hurt physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and financially. Many students, including Shelby herself, pledge to stay pure until marriage.
So teen sex has been stamped out in this community, right? Wrong. Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the nation. What happened? The policies of Lubbock and other heavily religious communities do not keep sex from happening (in a delicious twist, the film ends with the head of the school district resigning because he was caught having an affair with an employee). Instead, they promote a climate of ignorance and fear, which greatly increases the risk of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. This moral crusade against sex reveals its deadly nature when you look at the rapid spread of HIV and AIDS here and in other countries that promote abstinence programs. The horrific statistics underline our call for the separation of church and state.
Democrats Pander to Anti-Abortion Reaction
Liberals and feminists tout Hillary Clinton as a great defender of womens rights for joining anti-abortion Democrat Harry Reid in promoting the so-called Prevention First Act. This proposal was intended to find common ground with anti-abortion bigots, asking them to put their money where their mouths are and to support increased access to birth control and sex education. Clinton and the Democrats are aiding the crusade against abortion rights by appealing to the wing of the bourgeoisie who want to rid this country of it altogether. Thats because they agree on the same goal—the regimentation of youth and the maintenance of the institution of the family as a key prop for capitalism.
Democrats and Republicans alike have led the onslaught against many of the gains won for working people and the oppressed through the massive social struggles that began with the civil rights movement and continued with the mass radicalization of youth against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s. The first significant assault on abortion following Roe v. Wade took place under the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter, the countrys first born again Christian president. In 1977 he signed into law the Hyde Amendment, which eliminated abortion coverage from the Medicaid health plans of 23 million poor women.
Liberals and feminists look to the racist, repressive capitalist state to protect women. We Marxists understand that it requires class and social struggle not only to defend abortion rights, but to make abortion free and accessible to anyone in need, including poor or working-class women. Bourgeois women will generally have the means to get safe abortions regardless of legality. The Spartacist League and the SYCs advocate a strategy of mass, labor-backed mobilizations to defend clinics against the anti-abortion bigots and terrorists. We call on the working class to fight for abortion rights. This is because the fight for free abortion on demand, free health care and childcare is part of the fight against the state, family and religious institutions that keep the working class shackled to capitalist exploitation. This is part of our fight for socialist revolution to destroy this rotten and reactionary class-divided society.
The SYCs call for womens liberation through socialist revolution. We understand that womens liberation is a material act, requiring the destruction of the capitalist system and the establishment of a socialist, planned economy. As noted in The Russian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women, Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 59 (Spring 2006): One of the tasks of the socialist revolution is the full replacement of the institution of the family with communal childcare, dining halls and laundries, and paid maternity leave, free health care and special efforts to draw women fully into social and political life.
Technology and modern medicine enable humanity to increasingly control the forces of nature and use them to the advantage of human beings. Abortion and birth control give women greater control over their own reproduction, and there are simple measures that greatly reduce the risk of STDs. While these advances allow sex to be a safe and enjoyable act for both men and women, it is only with the destruction of capitalism that humanity will be able to fully avail itself of these advances and be freed from state repression and religious bigotry. And only then will youth be able to do what they please sexually, with whom they please, free of state and parental control.