Amid attacks on abortion rights, unions must fight back

We have the tools to transform protests into concrete actions defending bodily autonomy



(June 27, 2022) — As working people, we must be clear and unwavering; bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom are labor issues that unions must fight to preserve.

With the release of the Dobbs opinion, the Supreme Court is directly challenging the basic rights our movement exists to defend. Accessible, safe abortion is fundamentally an issue of equality under the law; ensuring this right for working people is a labor issue.

Limiting access to safe, legal abortion is an attack on working people. Attempts to curtail our rights and deny us access to reproductive care fall hardest on the working class, particularly Black, brown, and Indigenous folks who already struggle to access healthcare and consistently have worse health outcomes than their white counterparts. At a time when we should be focused on expanding equity for working people, limiting abortion access will only deepen racial and economic disparities.

This attack on reproductive freedom comes during a wave of working class people seizing our power and flexing it. We must recognize attempts to limit access to safe, legal abortion as part of an ongoing class war aimed at dividing working people and weakening our solidarity. United, we vastly outnumber those who seek to strip us of our rights. It’s our labor that keeps our country moving forward, it’s our labor that creates profits – and it is our bodies that are under attack.

Abortion rights are workers’ rights. We cannot be silent. Organized labor must fight back.

All workers deserve bodily protection whether they’re deciding when to walk away from an unsafe job site or when to start a family. Both of those decisions can impact a worker’s health, finances, and ability to work. These are the basic issues organized labor exists to address.

Our movement recognizes this connection. Per AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, “access to health care without fear and intimidation is every person’s right. We must be able to control our own bodies — which has a direct impact on economic justice and the ability of working people to make a better life for themselves and their families.”

Our unions have the tools we need to transform statements and protests into concrete actions defending bodily autonomy and the rights of working people. We can and must strengthen collective bargaining language to reflect our values; ensure that health insurance plans cover the cost of all abortions; and educate our members on their reproductive rights under current state family and medical leave laws.

And we must make our voices heard at the ballot box. We can and must strengthen abortion rights at the state level; to do that, we need to fight back a wave of anti-worker candidates and ensure we have strong majorities ready to protect reproductive rights.

Our movement exists to liberate and defend poor folks, the working class, and all marginalized workers. As we face down attacks on our bodily autonomy, and on the principles of equality that are cornerstones of organized labor, let us not forget the unique power and potential of this movement: to transform misery and despair into hope and progress.


Shaunie Wheeler James is the chair of the WSLC Women’s Committee. Cherika Carter, WSLC Political & Strategic Campaigns Director, staffs the Women’s Committee.

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