What Unions and the Pro-Choice Movement Have in Common

14 Mar

If you’ve been following the news in Wisconsin and Ohio, you’ve seen the stories about unions fighting for their existence. In a very real way, 2011 could be the end of many state public worker unions. But just when the outside threats are greatest, so has been the unions’ response. Some have said that for the first time in years workers are truly energized to fight.

There are some parallels with the reproductive rights movement. This year women are facing unprecedented movements against all forms of reproductive healthcare. And while not every person is born with a union card, every woman is born with the potential to get pregnant. Since every man and woman is born with a desire to have sex. It doesn’t take a political education for women to learn they’re going to spend most of their sexually-active lives trying not to get pregnant.

So why isn’t there more outrage over the recent moves to defund Planned Parenthood? Over the moves to equate tax-deductions for health insurance that covers abortion the same as “government money for abortions?” For the same reason that, while polls show majority support for unions and that most people want to be in a union themselves, most of the people standing outside the state capitols in Wisconsin and Ohio are already union members. It’s because the silent support of the majority who won’t be moved to act until it’s their ox being gored – by which then it may be far too late.

Unions provide crucial support for many workers who have few champions of their rights, like janitors and nurses. Likewise Planned Parenthood provides low-cost or no-cost healthcare to millions of women (and men) who couldn’t afford it otherwise. But if you are in the middle- or upper class of America, that probably means you already have a job that comes with healthcare benefits. That likely includes coverage of reproductive healthcare, so you Depo-Provera shot, your NuvaRing, your birth control pills.

You probably have sick days as well, so if you need an abortion, two days off isn’t a huge financial burden (the extra 24-hours is for a state-mandated “thinking period” after your first visit to the doctor because the state thinks you didn’t think about this at all before seeing the doctor). For now maybe your health insurance plan even covers abortion (although that benefit is likely going to disappear in 2014 thanks to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act). But even if your health insurance doesn’t cover abortion, since you are middle or upper class you don’t live paycheck to paycheck. Sure maybe money’s tight, but $400-$1500 isn’t going to break you.

Next hurdle, do you live in a major Metropolitan city? Sorry that doesn’t include Wichita, Kansas. Or Bismarck, North Dakota. I’m talking cities the size of Philadelphia, Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York. How far away from cities of that size do you live? An hour drive?A four-hour drive?A three-hour flight? Can you afford the travel expense on top of a possible overnight visit?

Very quickly what you see is the first women to suffer in the reduction of reproductive rights are the low-income, the unemployed-without-health-insurance, the non-urban dwelling, the non-white-collar workers. But the reduction won’t end with them, any more than public workers will be the only ones to lose if their union is neutered. While non-union workers may secretly wish they were in a union, too many of them see the unions struggle as something that has nothing to do with them. They don’t realize that the rights the Unions fight for their workers, are rights and benefits that spread to other industries. That the rising tide of workers’ situations lifts all boats.

It’s the same with reproductive health. Even if you are an upper-to-middle-class urban dweller with a good job and great health benefits, the anti-choice forces are coming after you. The problem is by the time the anti-choice legislation gets to affecting you, after marching over the rights of those with less means, it may be too late.

2 Responses to “What Unions and the Pro-Choice Movement Have in Common”

  1. everestmckinley March 14, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Excellent, except for the second paragraph where you ostracize many who could be pro-choice allies (women who are born without the ability to bear children, transpeople, asexual people, people who have sex without fear of getting pregnant) with blanket statements. A few word changes would make it palatable to all pro-choice allies.

  2. Cas March 14, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    Thanks, everestmckinley – I scrolled down to add just that correction, only to find to my relief that someone had already made it.

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