What’s Wrong with “Safe Access Zones” ?
28-07-2018 – The government passes new legislation which ensures women can enter reproductive health care clinics to access abortion and other services, without harassment by “pro-life” fundamentalists opposed women choosing their life outcomes. Sounds fantastic – or is it?
As with other political issues, the truth is always concrete. While those on the left uphold the right of women to choose whether or not to bear children, the particular political circumstances of the “safe zones” being legislated by the New South Wales (NSW) Australian Labor Party (ALP) government have to be studied closely. Especially as they may be soon followed in Queensland by the current ALP government.
Emma Norton from the left party Socialist Alternative, first raised the problems with “Safe Access Zones” in an article in Red Flag. The author correctly notes that “Safe Access Zones” are areas where any protests are banned within 150 metres of health care clinics where abortion services are provided, and that they have been written into law in Victoria, Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, and most recently in NSW. While in theory designed to protect women, they conveniently set up yet another restriction on the right to protest – a democratic right which has rapidly been eroded under the impact of the economic decline of capitalism since the “financial” crisis of 2008. Along with the right of workers to strike being effectively outlawed, the left can scarcely afford to flag wave for yet another restriction on the very limited bourgeois democratic rights working people are allowed under “liberal democracy”.
There appears to be debate in Socialist Alternative on this issue, for Daniel Lopez struck back with a comment piece arguing in favour of the “Safe Access Zones” even if they are enforced by the capitalist state. Socialists are not libertarians, he writes, and socialists do not oppose all measures enforced by a state authority. While it is true that socialists do not oppose state authority per se, again the truth is concrete. Firstly, what type of state is exercising authority – a capitalist state or a workers state? Secondly, for what reason is this taking place, and how should workers analyse this? The “Safe Access Zones” are being legislated in a parliament which is one of the strongest ideological apparatus in the hands of the capitalist ruling class. What is more, “Safe Access Zones” have to be enforced by the most viciously anti-working class arms of the capitalist state – the cops. On all other issues, socialists warn workers to be wary of the police, who are ultimately paid to protect the private property of the wealthy elite classes. If now, on the issue of “Safe Access Zones” the left advises workers to trust the police “just this once” – the political line breaks down.
Despite our sharp political disagreements with Socialist Alternative on other issues, we view Emma Norton’s line as being on point. She correctly highlights the fact that the ALP including “Safe Access Zones” in its legislative efforts are a cover for that party of government’s failure to ensure free, safe abortion on demand as a part of the health care system. The Queensland ALP’s proposed legislation could be described as partial decriminalisation, as it is only allowable up to 22 weeks of gestation. What is more, Labor Party Members of Parliament (MPs) are being given a conscience vote on the issue. This cop-out allows more conservative Labor Party MPs to oppose the bill, lessening its chances of being passed. The three Katter’s Australia Party (KAP) MPs have stated their opposition, and intention to oppose Liberal and Labor Party MPs to vote against as well.
On occasion, Socialist Alternative grasp the class nature of the capitalist state. The Socialist Alliance, on the other hand, we would argue, consistently struggle to understand this area of Marxist theory. Kamala Emanuel, in response to Emma Norton’s original Red Flag article, follows with a Green Left Weekly article which appears blind as to just who will enforce the no protest “Safe Access Zones”. She writes:
“Neoliberal governments have been attacking workers and our rights to organise, and we need to defend ourselves from those attacks.
But Norton’s argument against safe zones rests on the absurd notion that we cannot demand the state support our rights — in this case to access health care without harrassment. She misses the signifiance of the new law as one more step in the direction of winning abortion access in NSW, and the ripple effects it will have on securing abortion rights in other states.”
“….we cannot demand the state support our rights”, writes Emanuel. But it is not just any state – in this case it is a capitalist state, armed to the teeth with cops – who are routinely used against working class and the poor and downtrodden. The “Safe Access Zone” legislation, where it has been used, means no protest, by the left or the right. But the capitalist state is not neutral – this is also in the ABCs of Marxism. For every one step taken against the right, the capitalist state will take ten steps against the left. For the left to endorse swinging cop batons “for now” or “only on this issue”, won’t cut it.
If, as Green Left Weekly hopes, this will be used as “one more step in the direction of winning abortion access”, it will also increase political demands by the right for more no protest zones – even if under the name of “Safe Access”. If the left rallies behind effective no protest zones, under the guise of the protection of women entering reproductive health care clinics, the right will have much more political capital to demand the left allow another no protest zone on other issues, and at other locations. Pretty soon, no protest zones could be in place up and down the length and breadth of the country. In fact, it could lead to no protest zones being declared across entire regions. Needless to say, this would throw back the class struggle of the workers into decades past.
The Labor Party are not saviours for the workers – their history over the last 30 years at least should attest to that. They are smart enough to dangle a small reform in front of pro-choice campaigners, to throw dust in the eyes of some, and feed whole swathes of liberals and reformists, shepherding them back into their orbit. The plot has worked. With some pro-choice campaigners now effectively campaigning for the ALP, and even directly with and for Labor Party Members of Parliament, the Labor Party is once again “rehabilitated”. Into the bargain, the Labor Party has strengthened the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state – with the approval of the “left” !! This repressive apparatus will now be freshly oiled and operational in a time where working people will need to resist stupendous economic inequality being generated, not to speak of the threat of imperialist war.
What is more, if the left and pro-choice activists endorse “Safe Access Zones”, it means politically aligning with key parts of the capitalist state – the ALP, the Parliament and, the police. Whenever the left finds itself in this company, alarm bells should start ringing. Wherever the working class, due to a lack of political leadership, demands “safety” and “security” from the capitalist state, it hands itself over bound hand and foot to the very forces it should be confronting with its own collective strength.
Instead of demanding the armed fist of the capitalist state “protect” women, the workers should be demanding that Union officials mobilise workers to guard health care clinics, to drive anti-choice bigots away. This way, workers soon learn to rely on their class power. Relying on the armed state of the class which keeps them in subjection, not only fails to protect working class women. It politically disarms workers, driving them back once again into the arms of the government which enslaves all wage earners. Yet here we run up, once again, against the conservative Union officials, who have a material interest in restricting and curtailing the political activity of their own members, and workers in general.
The fact that abortion currently remains on the criminal code at all, is a stark reminder of the status of women due to class society. Women’s oppression under capitalism is maintained by the three pillars – the family, private property and the state. Women’s liberation therefore, can only come about through a successful workers’ struggle for its emancipation – via socialist revolution. A prerequisite for women’s liberation – and workers’ emancipation – is the forging of a Leninist vanguard party. A workers’ party which fights for a workers government must be constructed using the most advanced political elements – women and men – of our class. The unfettered right of women to free, safe abortion services will be one of the first acts of the workers in power.
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