The recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization by the land’s highest court has overturned Roe v. Wade and altered nearly 50 years of legal precedent.
This Supreme Court ruling goes directly to the heart of healthcare access and representation in the workforce for women. Research has established that limiting access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, results in demonstrably negative outcomes for women, particularly women of color. Research has also established that in states like Texas, where laws banning abortion and “targeted restrictions on abortion providers” (TRAP) laws have been in the works for years, standing in the way of reproductive freedom ends up costing state and local economies over $100 billion annually.
The ultimate endgame of such restrictions is a one-two punch to women, exerting downward pressure on their participation in the workforce as well as a negative impact on their overall earnings. The results show us hikes in turnover and time-off away from work, especially for women 15 to 44 years of age.
So, how will employers and courts respond?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, among other protected characteristics, should continue to provide benefits that cover reproductive health, including abortion. Already we are seeing some employers increase those benefits to include travel and expenses for their staff to seek procedures in states that are safeguarding rights.
Regardless of how corporate America reacts to the courts, we know that the National Labor Relations Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other statues protect our speech about wages and working conditions, including healthcare, and prohibit discrimination. We can also lean on existing statues like the Family Medical Leave Act to protect jobs and privacy when workers need time away from the jobsite.
Unfortunately, the bigger problem is that the burden has shifted entirely to the worker to stand up. Unions have a role to play here; after all, it is the labor movement that has fought so hard to secure health benefits for our workers. Taking care of our health and safety as workers is fundamental, and we have recent experience using our collective strength on this very issue.
In 2016, tens of thousands of Polish workers took up a strike and pressured their government to vote down a total ban on abortion, and, that same year, a coalition of Irish unions successfully launched the Trade Union Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, leading to legalized abortion and same-sex marriage in 2019.
Who better to stand up for healthcare and equality than us? The alternative is that we retreat and wait for this court to once again attack us head-on. No, thanks.
Fundamentally, we must continue to assert our rights to protect our bodies, be it by stopping work on an unsafe jobsite or freely seeking healthcare. All of these decisions have serious impacts on workers and their financial position in America. I am comforted by the statements of labor leaders like AFL-CIO President Liz Schuler, who recently said, “Access to healthcare without fear and intimidation is every person’s right. We must be able to control our own bodies. That autonomy, she went on to point out, has a direct impact on economic justice and the ability of working people to lead better lives.”
I believe that our movement has the tools to turn messages of solidarity into concrete protections for our members. We can use our power in collective bargaining and within our union-sponsored health plans to demand access to reproductive care and protect members from discrimination when seeking care.
What we are left with is a Supreme Court that has completely departed from what has, for years, been long-established precedent.
This court picks and chooses when to use the First Amendment as a cover for freeloading scabs in the public sector (Janus v. AFSCME) and when to hide behind the “states’ rights” argument, as it has in its most recent attack on women. This court, nakedly right-wing in its politics, puts its hypocrisy on full display when it throws those same states’ rights to collect dues to the wind.
It is unfortunate that the current incarnation of this institution has been hijacked by partisan justices. We can expect more conservative opinions framing issues as these justices see convenient. Longstanding precedent we have come to rely on will no longer save us.
That leaves it up to us: We must organize and use every available tool to secure rights and protections for our members, both on and off the jobsite.