The recent US Supreme Court Dobbs ruling giving states the right to determine their abortion laws. This has rendered abortions unavailable for about one-third of all American women. Like millions, I am stunned. Let’s be very clear; this decision is about about more than women’s reproductive rights. More accurately, it’s about taking those rights away.
It’s a rare reversal of an earlier Supreme Court decision. This is not about ‘saving babies’. If it was, universal healthcare, parental leave and excellent maternal care would be standard. These ‘rights’ are far from the reality for most.
Your life shaped by reproductive rights
This decision is and has always been, about control. It’s a sanitised way to strip women’s reproductive rights from them in broad daylight. It’s enough to make many point to the dystopian landscape of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ as a salutary tale.
However, this analogy is dangerous for women’s rights. Likening our reality to a ‘fiction’ removes us from focusing on those in power. It renders us powerless observers. That’s not the perspective we need right now. This strips away a right that American women and families have had for fifty years. It is hard to comprehend for both women and their employers. Quite simply, most working in the West today have never lived in a world where choice over women’s reproductive rights was not a given right.
Women’s rights in the UK
Roe has shaped your life whether you are pro-life or pro-choice. This is true about reproductive rights in the US. It’s even true about women’s rights in the UK, where I’m based. It’s easy to feel relief that just a few months ago, England joined Scotland and Wales in enshrining abortion pills for women’s reproductive rights.
But this is not the end of the road, in the UK, let alone in the US and further afield. UK Anti-choice protestors have increasingly mimicked the harassment techniques of women’s health clients just like they’ve seen work in the US.
So much so, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon is moving forward with a plan to keep protestors more than 150 metres away from clinics. This is because they’ve encroached ever forward towards the health provider locations. The implications go beyond Europe, and the United States. Indeed, American women are now crossing the border for both Canadian and Mexican reproductive clinics.
Unfunded mandate on the poorest
The lives of today’s workers have all been shaped by women who used access to these services. This is the secret most women never share. These encounters will not have happened if these women were forced to carry babies they didn’t want, couldn’t raise or weren’t viable for a range of medical reasons.
They know these women as the teachers, doctors, lawyers, ‘daily activists’ and workers in our lives. This is not dependent on how you feel about reproductive rights. If these women were not allowed to thrive with the lives they actively wanted – we would all be worse off. Indeed, I talk about these women with audiences when discussing the revolutionary role of female breadwinners.
It’s apt to call this decision an ‘unfunded mandate’. The government is forcing these women to have babies, without giving them the support to do so. Indeed, this assault on women’s rights will hit low-income and women of colour the hardest. Anyone without the resources to access out of state suppliers and providers will be impacted – meaning we all suffer.
How work will deteriorate without women’s reproductive rights:
- The economic gains families have made with women as reliable workers will falter. Women who have had the chance to plan their families and act accordingly have been a boon for employers. Since Roe v Wade, women are consistently choosing to marry later, and stay in education longer. This provides a lifeline to families. It’s particularly noticeable compared against women who left education early because of pregnancy.
1. Employers discriminating against hiring and keeping female employees
- Many high-profile companies will provide funds for women to travel for abortion to a state where it is legal. However, these workers are in the minority. Indeed research shows over 60% of employers said they will be adding not help for pregnant female employees.
- The truth is if women can’t access affordable and safe reproductive care, it will become easier for employers to argue a woman will never be a safe bet when it comes to that promotion or new role. Starting out, they’ll lose great staff, but also struggle to retain the fewer numbers of women who remain. Joining a team is more attractive if you identify with colleagues and could feel comfortable – part of the whole drive for equalities over the last 50 years.
2. Quality level and range of perspectives diminish
- If you cut the ‘reliable’ workforce in half, not only will the overall quality level and range of perspectives diminish, but the healthy goal of building your skill level will falter. After all, the man who works in this new reality is ‘safer’ than much of female competition he had before this decision. Women are often quicker to keep their learning current. Fewer female graduates will get through the education and training they need in order to become his competition, let alone the earner that families today so desperately need.
3. Poorer skill levels of current talent
- Diminishing graduate talent pool. In the last several decades, employers have had access to a wider than ever talent pool from whom they could recruit. As I said in ‘The Con Job’ women are outpacing men when it comes to advanced degrees and even maintaining their CPD after they’ve joined the workplace. If women are forced to leave education because of unplanned pregnancies, the skill levels of your potential talent pool will decrease. When the leaked decision was made a few months ago, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned the SCOTUS of the damaging effects on the economy and how such an overturning would set women back economically decades.
4. Economic growth will falter
- As skilled as they are, women are not only ace employees. They are also consumer who raise families and drive their own discretionary income. Without them contributing to the workplace the way they have, the spending power that has bolstered global economies for decades will falter.
And when abortions aren’t available?
I was fascinated by the University of California’s Turnaway Study. It shows undisputed evidence of how much worse off women are when they can’t access the reproductive care they need earlier in their life; simply because of local laws.
Unique because of its longitudinal approach, the Turnaway study gave proof that women who can’t access abortion when they want it early on, suffer worse financial, health and family outcomes for the rest of their lives.
Clearly, taking away women’s decision-making capabilities about their own bodies makes no sense. Taking this view, which disproportionately affects poorer and ethnic minority women seems particularly craven given the decision was made by 4 powerful men and one white woman.
Surely these significant effects are repercussions none of us as individuals, but also as employers and governments should ever want for women and their families.