Pitting Workplace Protections Against Reproductive Healthcare is a False Choice–Families Need Both

All families deserve to have access to the support they need to be healthy, happy, and economically secure, including workplace protections and access to reproductive health care.
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Nearly one year ago, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. Since then, many state legislatures have severely limited access to abortion care, leaving tens of millions of people without comprehensive reproductive health care. Many of these same legislators have implied that if states enact policies to support working parents, they are justified in blocking access to abortion care. This represents a false choice that is only intended to divide advocates and distract from the devastating, deadly impacts that abortion bans are currently having on pregnant people and families across the country. We won’t take the bait.

Even if we one day achieve our ideal future where everyone has critical supports like paid leave and child care, that would never eliminate the need for access to the full range of reproductive health care, including safe and legal abortions. These two things are not mutually exclusive; both are absolutely essential to ensure that all women and pregnant people are able to thrive. 

All families deserve to have access to the support they need to be healthy, happy, and economically secure. No parent should be denied access to necessary health care, or even worse, face criminalization and punishment due to their pregnancy outcomes. Every parent should have access to strong workplace anti-discrimination protections, paid leave, paid sick time, and affordable and equitable child care. 

In the majority opinion in Dobbs, Justice Alito suggested that protections against pregnancy discrimination and access to family leave are already widespread, a woefully false assertion. Nationally, only about 1 in 4 workers have access to paid family leave, and workers of color and lower-wage workers are even less likely to have this critical protection. Additionally, thousands of pregnant workers across the country are subjected to discrimination in the workplace or forced off the job because of their needs before, during, or after pregnancy. Through our free legal helpline, A Better Balance regularly hears from individuals across the country who are faced with heart-wrenching medical and financial hardships because they lack paid leave, fair and flexible schedules, affordable child care, or more.

Often, the states with the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws also have the weakest protections for working parents, and many of these states are in the South. The lack of access to reproductive healthcare and workplace protections, combined with additional layers of systemic racism & sexism, lead to more pervasive negative health and economic outcomes for women in the South, and especially Black women. 85% of Black mothers are primary or co-breadwinners for their families, but due to systemic discrimination, Black women face much higher rates of poverty and maternal mortality than white women. Thus, the everyday realities of millions of women, especially those living in Southern states, are in stark contrast to the unrealistic picture of work-family supports suggested in the Dobbs majority opinion. We see this up close in A Better Balance’s Southern Office based in Nashville, which has worked with families across the South for nearly a decade. 

With these contradictions in mind, a handful of anti-abortion politicians have recently demonstrated a purported greater interest in policies that would nominally increase support for working parents. For example, this year, more Southern states enacted paid parental leave policies for state government employees and public school educators. These policies are important steps forward that ABB and our partners, including reproductive justice and health groups, have fought for over several years. These victories belong first and foremost to advocates and workers who pushed for them, not lawmakers who are simultaneously rolling back rights. And yet, these steps still fall far short of the comprehensive protections that all working families need.

In fact, no state that has rolled back abortion rights in the past year has come close to passing comprehensive paid family and medical leave, paid maternity leave, or paid sick time measures for all workers. An individual forced into pregnancy in one of these states could still lose critical income while attending prenatal appointments, even for a high-risk pregnancy. Nearly one in four Americans return to work within 2 weeks of giving birth because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave. Over the past year, thousands more women have become pregnant in states with abortion roll-backs post-Dobbs, many of whom are less likely to have a financial cushion or access to high quality healthcare and childcare. For these reasons, these women are the most at risk of adverse maternal and infant health outcomes, especially in the horrifying new world we find ourselves in. Those fearful of criminalized pregnancy outcomes due to draconian abortion restrictions often have to risk their health even when continuing with an intended pregnancy–a consequence reproductive justice advocates have long warned of. There is truly a greater need to support pregnant workers than ever before in meaningful ways that center the lived truth of advocates and community members.  

A Better Balance is dedicated to continuing to lead the fight for paid leave and other protections that working families urgently need, such as the newly enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act & PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act. However, we reject the notion that enacting these policies justifies taking away access to safe, legal abortions, or that the two should be traded off in any way. Families need and deserve both.

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