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Equality for women cannot depend on abortion

Braver Angels, an organization dedicated to facilitating discussion on difficult and divisive issues, held a debate on December 2 titled Resolved: Women’s Equality Requires Access to Abortion.

All Our Lives, of course, stands in opposition to this resolution. Although time limits prevented reading it fully, this was co-founder Jen Roth’s statement.

Support for the affirmative position in this debate is more commonly associated with the left. But—and I’m coming at this more from the left side myself—I think there is an inconsistency in this position.

In general, the left is more aware of the economic and social pressures that can constrain decisions that are supposedly free. For instance, economic libertarians argue that minimum wage laws, for instance, are anti-worker because employers would create more jobs if they didn’t have to pay more than they think a job is worth. Thus, they say, these laws actually prevent people who would rather have a $3/hour job than no job from getting them.

But a leftist would argue that the person working in dangerous conditions or for poverty wages isn’t doing that because they’ve made a free choice among multiple viable options. They’re doing it because they need money to live and thus don’t really have much of a choice. That’s why leftists argue for minimum wage laws, worker protections, universal basic income and other measures that mean workers don’t have to make that choice. To someone on the left, never having to make a choice between a bad job and starvation is fundamental to a pro-worker society. I believe that this analysis should also be applied to abortion.

There’s another comparison I could make. Before I start, I would ask participants to remember that, no matter what their own views are, the idea of having an abortion is repugnant to many women because they see it as killing a human being. With that in mind, suppose a woman were required to have sex with her boss or landlord to keep her job or afford her housing. Would we consider justice done if we secured her right to do so? Would anyone be referring to this as economic justice? Of course not, because even if the woman might otherwise be interested in sleeping with that person, it should never be a requirement. I hope we would never say that the right of a woman to participate in society is dependent on whether she can sleep with a person who has power over her. I hope anyone would be enraged at the suggestion that their rights are contingent on that. But we hear over and over that abortion is needed because, for instance, poor women won’t be able to get out of poverty without it—and that’s supposed to be pro-woman.

There’s a reason that major corporations and Hollywood are tripping over themselves to prove how committed they are to abortion, and it’s not because they’re feminist. It’s because it’s a whole lot more money and trouble to pay for parental leave and deal with getting a temporary replacement for a worker on leave and provide for nursing moms and change shooting schedules to accommodate a pregnant actress.

When I hear someone say that equality requires abortion, it doesn’t sound like a call to liberation. It sounds like despair. It sounds like giving up.

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We can’t go on this way

With everything that’s happened in 2020, one thing could not be more obvious: things can’t go on the way they are.

Abortion opponents can’t continue to be focused on electing politicians with no regard for anything except the abortion bills they’ll vote for or the Supreme Court justices they’ll nominate. Divorcing concern for the unborn from concern for everyone else has led us to a point where the term “pro-life” is associated with an authoritarian regime and its apologists.

White society can’t continue to ignore Black lives, including Black maternal and child health. Advocates for the unborn can’t ignore the inequities that make Black women more likely to receive abortions—and we can’t pawn it all off as “Planned Parenthood’s racism” either. We also can’t ignore racism perpetuated by people who are (at least nominally) “on our side.”

We can’t continue to live under an economic system that treats workers as mere units of labor, not human beings with lives and needs. The corporate vision of women’s freedom touts abortion as “economic justice” because it doesn’t challenge their power; it’s cheaper and easier than real economic justice.

“Freedom” can’t continue to mean “I do whatever I want with no regard for how it affects others.” We’re all in this life together, and pretending we’re not so that a few people can indulge their every desire makes everyone else less free.

The only just, sustainable way to create a society that values the lives of the most vulnerable is to create a society that values all of us—even those whose lives others might consider disposable. It’s not OK to let a pandemic go unchecked because most of the people it kills are elderly or disabled. It’s not OK to shrug off a police shooting because the victim may have committed a crime. It’s sure as hell not “pro-life.”

We can’t go on as we’ve been. So now what?

If you believe we need a new movement, one that centers the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancy and racial injustice and poverty and ableism, one that doesn’t ask you to choose between protecting the unborn and respecting everyone else’s lives, join us and let us know how you’d like to help.

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Equal choices, as long as the choice is abortion

Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has signed a bill into law that, among other provisions, will require Medicaid in the state to cover elective abortions. Governor Rauner issued a statement saying “I understand abortion is a very emotional issue with passionate opinions on both sides. I sincerely respect those who believe abortion is morally wrong. They are good people motivated by principle. But, as I have always said, I believe a woman should have the right to make that choice herself and I do not believe that choice should be determined by income. I do not think it’s fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have.”

To be clear, this bill does not remotely give poor women the choice that wealthy women have. Wealthy women can choose to bear children without having to worry whether they’ll be able to feed them, house them, raise them in safe neighborhoods, and educate them in quality schools. This bill is about giving poor women parity as regards one particular choice, and one only.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 75% of women who sought abortions in 2014 were poor or low-income. Twenty-six percent had incomes of 100–199% of the federal poverty level, and 49% had incomes of less than 100% of the federal poverty level ($15,730 for a family of two). Exactly how free are those choices? How much is that choice “determined by income”?

Rauner’s administration has devastated virtually every other social service for the poor, and now we’re supposed to believe he’s acting out of respect for poor women? Sure–and Hugh Hefner promoted abortion in Playboy because he was all about the feminism.

gavel, law book, scales of justice
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Peggy Young wins at the Supreme Court

In a 5-4 decision today (SCOTUSblog analysis here), the United States Supreme Court ruled that Peggy Young’s employment discrimination lawsuit against UPS could proceed. Young was forced to take leave without pay when she was pregnant due to a 20-pound lifting restriction, even though UPS accommodated other drivers in conditions that were similarly, or even more, restrictive.

Young’s suit claimed that UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that Young couldn’t show that “similarly-situated employees outside the protected class received more favorable treatment” than she did. People who had lost their drivers’ licenses due to DUIs weren’t similarly situated because Young wasn’t legally barred from driving; other workers with physical limitations weren’t similarly situated because they were covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Young wasn’t. She appealed, and the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Circuit’s interpretation of the PDA was too narrow.

Young can now go back and make the case that UPS denied her accommodations that were available to other workers who were similar in their ability or inability to work. If she can show that — and in this case, she has — UPS can try to demonstrate that the reasons for not accommodating her were pregnancy-neutral and not based on discrimination. The argument that accommodations would cost money, though technically neutral, can’t be used as a reason not to provide them to pregnant workers.

All in all, this is a victory for pregnant workers and their babies. However, there’s still uncertainty about what accommodations the law requires, and that uncertainty will mean that the only way for many women to get fair treatment is by taking employers to court. That’s why Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), one of the lead sponsors of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, said on Twitter: “While today’s #SCOTUS ruling in #YoungvUPS is a victory for Peggy, it does not create a predictable, simple standard for pregnant workers. Congress should pass my #PWFA, to establish a clear and predictable standard, guaranteeing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.” We agree. Pregnant workers shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs on the one hand, and their health and that of their children on the other.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects life, health, and jobs (photo by wunkaiwang on Flickr)
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All Our Lives, Feminists for Nonviolent Choices tell Supreme Court: Pregnancy discrimination is anti-life

For Immediate Release

December 3, 2014

Washington, D.C.—On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Young v. United Parcel Service, a case that will help determine what accommodations employers are legally obligated to provide to their pregnant employees.

Peggy Young is a UPS employee who sought light duty after her doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. Although it grants accommodations for other medical needs, UPS refused to allow Young to return to work until she was no longer pregnant.

Women’s rights and labor rights organizations filed amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs on behalf of Peggy Young. In addition, 23 anti-abortion groups signed on to a brief filed by professors from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Some media accounts have framed this as a case of “strange bedfellows”—but not everyone finds it strange.

All Our Lives and Feminists for Nonviolent Choices are two of the organizations that joined the pro-lifers’ amicus brief. Both groups work to address the social and economic factors that put unjust pressure on women to have abortions. Both see pregnancy discrimination in employment as an example of social structures that fail to respect human life.

“Our society claims to value children and motherhood so highly, and yet we don’t value them enough to put them before the maximization of profit,” said Jennifer Roth of All Our Lives. “Without reasonable accommodations, a pregnant worker might have to choose between protecting her health and her baby’s on the one hand, and supporting her family on the other. If their lives really matter, they’re worth the cost of a few extra water breaks or a light duty assignment.”

Dr. Mary Dahl Maher, president of Feminists for Nonviolent Choices, stated, “For a truly pro-woman, pro-life decision, the Supreme Court must rule that the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act mean employers are to meet the needs of pregnant women the same as they would meet the needs of any other worker who’s similarly physically restricted. Employer policies that are merely ‘pregnancy-neutral’ are, in fact, prejudiced against pregnancy and therefore against women.”

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All Our Lives joins amicus brief in pregnancy discrimination case

All Our Lives has joined 22 other pro-life organizations in filing a “friend of the court” (amicus curiae) brief in Young vs. United Parcel Service, which the United States Supreme Court will hear during the 2014-2015 session.

Peggy Young is a UPS employee whose doctor advised her not to lift more than 20 pounds during her pregnancy. She sought an accommodation that would allow her to have lighter duty. Although it grants accommodations for other medical needs, UPS refused to allow Young to return to work until she was no longer pregnant. Young sued on the basis that the refusal to accommodate her needs during pregnancy was illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to join this brief, which makes the case that “policies structured around a male-centered ‘ideal worker’ paradigm” are invalid, discriminatory against women, and anti-life.

You can download a PDF of the brief here.


Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects life, health, and jobs (photo by wunkaiwang on Flickr)
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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protects life, health, and jobs

Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Susan Davis (D-CA) and George Miller (D-CA), and a total of 78 co-sponsors have introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. PWFA would require companies to provide pregnant employees with the same types of accommodations that are required for disabled workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Nadler’s office:

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will accomplish this by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and preventing employers from forcing women out on leave when another reasonable accommodation would allow them to continue working.  The bill also bars employers from denying employment opportunities to women based on their need for reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

In recent and startling examples, Heather Wiseman, a retail worker in Salina, Kansas, was fired because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections; Victoria Serednyj, an activity director at a nursing home in Valparaiso, Indiana, was terminated because she required help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage; and Peggy Young, a delivery truck driver in Landover, Maryland, was forced out on unpaid leave because she had a lifting restriction and was denied light duty.  For the well-being of pregnant workers, and for the sake of the economic stability of American families, our laws must be updated and clarified.

The National Women’s Law Center has more information in their PWFA factsheet.

Preventing pregnant mothers from having to choose between the jobs they need to provide for their families on one hand, and their own health and the health of their unborn children on the other, seems like the least a country that aspires to be “pro-family” can do. If you agree and you are in the U.S., please contact your Representative to ask him or her to cosponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, H.R. 5647.

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Guttmacher: Abortion has become more concentrated among poor women

The US may be a nation of unimaginable wealth, but its poorest women and children are made to live in quite another country, one of constrained resources and alternatives. And here are some of the real-life results:

The proportion of abortion patients who were poor increased by almost 60%—from 27% in 2000 to 42% in 2008 […].

The growing concentration of abortion among women with incomes below the federal poverty line likely reflects a combination of factors. Between 2000 and 2008, the proportion of women in the overall population who were poor increased by 25%. And a Guttmacher study published in the Fall of 2009 showed that the deep economic recession may also have played a role, as financial concerns led more women to want to delay childbearing or limit the number of children they have.

(Guttmacher Institute, Abortion Has Become More Concentrated Among Poor Women)

Not only are poor women less likely than more affluent women to be able to afford to raise a child without assistance, they are also less likely to be able to afford health care, including both prenatal/childbirth care and access to prescription contraception. One of the key reasons that women who use oral contraceptives sometimes miss pills (and are therefore more likely to become pregnant) is that they put off filling prescriptions for financial reasons.

We hope that the health care bill recently passed by Congress can help counteract these pressures on lower-income women.

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Donate for prenatal care in Nebraska

Last week, we posted about women in Nebraska who have lost public funding for their prenatal care due to immigration politics.  Fear and uncertainty are driving some of these women to consider abortion because they're not sure how they'll be able to bear and raise their children.  Now there is a way that you can help. All Our Lives has created a charity badge for donations to One World Community Health Centers, Inc., aka Indian-Chicano Health Center, Inc., of Omaha, Nebraska.

If you wish, you may designate your gift specifically for prenatal care when you make your donation. Please donate if you can; if you can't, please help by spreading the word!

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Nebraska prenatal care funding cut may drive women to abortions

While we're all holding our breath waiting for the House to vote on health care reform, let's not forget another health care situation. In Nebraska, Governor Dave Heineman is still refusing to support LB110. This legislation would allow the state to continue its decades-old practice of funding prenatal care for low-income women who are undocumented immigrants. The previous prenatal care funding expired March 1, and clinics in Omaha are starting to hear from clients who are scared and considering abortion:

McVea said she has been flabbergasted by the response from her mostly Hispanic patients, who have a strong cultural and religious aversion to abortion. She said she can count on one hand the number of abortions she has been aware of over the past decade, adding that one of the clinic's translators had never heard the Spanish word for “abortion” until the past two weeks. “I just really underestimated how the loss of prenatal care would push so many people into doing something that ordinarily they would never, ever consider,” McVea said. “It's a lot of fear. Uncertainty drives a lot of women to choose an abortion.” She added that although the clinic is offering to help the women pay for prenatal services and reassures women that the government will pay for deliveries, the women don't trust that information. “We tell women, ‘It's going to be covered, you don't have to worry,' ” McVea said. “But there's a lot of fear because they've been turned down once.”

I've been in touch with OneWorld Community Health Center of Omaha, where McVea works, about earmarking donations for prenatal care at their clinic. I expect to hear back tomorrow. Please help if you can.