On Abortion and the Left


August 11, 2022

With its latest ruling to repeal the contested landmark decision of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court has instigated one of the biggest attacks on women’s rights in recent US history. Following former US president Trump’s appointment of three ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justices, the court majority came for the last scraps of abortion rights.

Notwithstanding the fact that they had been on the chopping block for decades, the latest attack on abortion rights marks a shift in US politics. For a long time there was a bipartisan consensus to leave things unchanged, neither advancing nor repealing Roe. Today, leftists in the US have to face the uncomfortable reality that the legal right to abortion is a partisan issue, with the Democratic Party positioning itself for and the Republican Party against it. This poses a different political problem for the Left post-Roe. How should leftists — who are currently a marginal political phenomenon globally — position themselves vis-à-vis this issue? Are there any historical lessons to be learned?

Sublation Magazine has published several different interpretations of this issue. The focus of this essay will be a response to Ethan Linehan’s piece “Wrong Life and Abortion“ and only indirectly touch upon Conrad Hamilton’s response to Linehan.

Pseudo-Materialism and Liberalism

Reading both Linehan and Hamilton, the question arises whether abortion rights are a liberal right on their own or if they need to be bundled up with “materialist” concerns such as demographics. I will argue for abortion as a liberal right on its own. Linehan’s piece dances around this issue but ultimately fails to articulate a clear position and therefore provides a false assessment of the political question at hand.

Rather, in a self-contradictory way, Linehan both criticizes the reduction of the abortion question to a moral issue detached from politics and simultaneously falls back on such a position himself. By judging that “[c]apitalism makes abortion necessary but regrettable,” that socialists supported reproductive freedom without “endors[ing] abortion as a positive good,” and regarding abortion to be an “index of our unfreedom,” Linehan takes a moral standpoint against it. According to him, abortion is a necessary evil of capitalist society.

This is both factually incorrect as well as morally questionable: Historically, abortions were practiced well before the era of capitalism. In fact, they were freely exercised without state interventions during the time of the American Revolution. It was only in 1821 that the first American abortion statute was passed (in Connecticut).