Abortion and Abolition Feminism

I wanted to write this blogpost about the new book Abolition. Feminism. Now. By Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners and Beth Richie. I have just finished reading the book and can say it is a fascinating genealogy and argument for the indivisibility of feminism and abolition. The main argument of the book is that “abolition is unthinkable without feminism and our feminism is unimaginable without abolition” (p. 168). They argue that the abolition of prisons, of police, of repressive state violence is fundamentally informed by feminism and that feminism must, in turn, be abolitionist. They further argue that this carceral state has historically and continues to repress the most marginalized in society including women of colour, trans people, non-binary people, indigenous people, LGBTQIA+ people, and disabled people. Abolition feminism thus presents an intersectional mode of resistance to the carceral state because it has united marginalized groups in various collectives, workshops, classrooms, and protests. Towards the end of the book, the authors point out how a lot of feminist abolitionist organizing has been subjected to erasure because of the view that only “concrete” (for example policy changes) results are important. However, the authors powerfully argue that education, building collectives and organizing towards the abolition of the carceral state is extremely important and is necessary to overturing these systems of oppression. It is crucial to keep these histories and stories of resistance alive and to build imaginaries for the future.

Roe v Wade

I want to now talk about the recent overturning of Roe v Wade in the US as an example of why abolition feminism is so important to addressing the current moment. While abolition feminism is certainly not only applicable to the US, the current context of this decision provides an excellent opportunity for arguing for abolition feminism as both a method of thinking and praxis. In 1973, the US supreme court affirmed the right to an abortion in Roe v Wade but this federal legalizing of abortion was never codified into federal law (despite Obama’s promises to do so). Because of this failure to create legislation in Congress affirming the right to an abortion, the supreme court’s striking down of Roe v Wade has meant that many states can now ban abortion within their borders.

Abortion is fundamentally an issue of bodily autonomy, something which the Right is unwilling to admit (instead calling themselves pro-life). The irony, of course, is that the Right in the US has never cared at all for providing social services, healthcare, or support for newly born children. They are very comfortable with mandating that vulva-havers (I use this term here to include women, non-binary, trans and other people who can become pregnant) not abort the child, but they are completely fine with providing no support whatsoever to the person who they have forced to have the child. Of course, as with the stripping away of other rights and protections, those who suffer most are marginalized groups such as non-binary people, women of colour, poor women, disabled women and trans men. In response, liberals call for a few peaceful protests and electing more democrats in the midterm elections in November. I want to now turn to abolition feminism and abortion to show how this liberal approach (mentioned above) to the stripping away of abortion rights is deeply harmful to marginalized communities and will only reinforce the status quo that has enabled the erasure of reproductive rights in the first place.

Abortion and Abolition Feminism

Access to abortion is very much a central issue for feminists but considering the overturn of Roe v Wade, the question becomes how to address this? Liberals and liberal feminists propose electing more democrats in November. Indeed, immediately after the decision, Nancy Pelosi, the democratic Speaker of the House, sent out an email asking for donations to the Democratic Party to help them win more seats in the midterms. This shameless ploy has come after the long-time failure of the democrats to codify reproductive rights into federal law through legislation. Of course, the ones who will be enforcing the new state bans across various states are the police. In his first term in office, President Biden has pledged billions of dollars to police departments stating that “the answer is not to defund our police departments”. The democrats are wholly committed to funding police repression and violence. The democratic establishment has clearly set out their commitment to the carceral state and have shown that what they have learned from the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 is more police funding, more police budgets, and greater police powers.

As the authors of Abolition. Feminism. Now argue, “As a practical organizing tool and long-term goal, abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing and surveillance and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment” (p. 50). The democrats would fully stand behind the carceral state systems that are about to imprison people for seeking abortions, and this criminalization will disproportionately fall on marginalized populations like women of colour and disabled people. Securing abortion rights will not come about through the current status quo and political system; the democrats have made this very clear. Funding for policing will contribute to the further curtailing of other rights as the white supremacist, patriarchal supreme court strips away access to contraception and gay marriage and the police are told to enforce this.

What is instead needed is as the authors argue, “lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment”. Doing this will take organizing and creating collectives, workshops, and movements. As the authors argue in this book, these movements and collectives must be led by women of colour, disabled people and LGBTQIA+ people, and people in prisons or who were in prisons. They must draw upon the history of abolitionist feminist organizing to both advocate for people currently in prisons and advocate community initiatives and community-based care that can successfully replace prisons and police. Examples of such organizing include the Transformative Justice Law project advocating for trans people impacted by the legal system or groups challenging the prison-industrial complex and shutting down prisons (p. 140–141). These groups are doing valuable work in shifting the narrative towards abolitionist feminism from white liberal feminism that merely advocates for convictions and endless police funding.

Ultimately, police brutality and state violence are something that marginalized populations deal with as part of their lived experience. The restriction of abortion rights comes as part of this carceral state system, and so abolition feminism is both important as an organizing framework and a praxis for opposing state violence. Failure to challenge the status quo (like voting for democrats) will simply accelerate and entrench state violence and further restrictions of rights. Police do not protect marginalized communities; they are deeply harmful. Abolition feminism, in the context of abortion, provides a way of understanding why restriction to abortion has come about as well as a means for organizing to resist state repression.

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Andrew Barnett

Andrew Barnett

MSc Environment and Development Student at LSE. I write about political issues and personal things from a left-wing perspective.