Unions weigh in for reproductive rights in key Mississippi case
Map of states with abortion bans enacted or waiting for court to outlaw right to choice. Courtesy The 19th.

WASHINGTON—When it comes to defending women’s reproductive rights, there’s no question where the nation’s union women stand: 100% for their sisters and against the mostly male repressive forces who would strip those rights away.

Which is why the Coalition of Labor Union Women and individual unions, including the four largest, joined friend-of-the-court briefs on the side of the Jackson, Miss., Women’s Health Organization as its freedom of reproductive choice case comes to the Supreme Court Dec. 1.

That day, as the Women’s March prepares to surround the court outside, the justices will hear oral argument on the case pitting the center, the Magnolia State’s sole abortion-providing clinic, against the state government and its ruling right-wing Republicans.

Catering to their white nationalist and often misogynist base, Mississippi’s GOP legislative majority and governor kowtowed to anti-abortionists and banned virtually all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The rightists seized on the Mississippi law as the most-direct challenge to the 1973 Roe v Wade decision and its follow-up Planned Parenthood v Casey, decided in 1992. They actually want the six GOP-named High Court justices to outlaw the constitutional right to reproductive choice. Failing that, they’ll settle for Mississippi’s curbs. A federal appeals court has stayed (stopped) the law until the justices decide, which will occur next year.

In friend-of-the-court briefs—briefs the justices sometimes cite during oral arguments—CLUW, the National Education Association, the Service Employees, the Teachers (AFT), AFSCME, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, and the National Women’s Soccer League Players Association all ask the court to side with the clinic and with choice. So do 500 individual female sports players who joined the women’s sports unions’ brief.

The NEA, SEIU, AFT and AFSCME, in that order, are the nation’s largest unions, and CLUW is the AFL-CIO constituency group for woman workers. The soccer players are the AFL-CIO’s newest member union. All the briefs basically hit the same themes: The impact of ending reproductive rights.

SEIU and AFSCME joined the brief crafted by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which emphasized the disproportionate and discriminatory impact a ban on reproductive rights would have on low-income women and women of color.

Their brief even included a color-coded map showing which states already restrict—or plan to restrict–a woman’s right to choose, and predicting more such curbs should the justices side with Mississippi. Those states, in purple, cover the entire Deep South except Florida, plus Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Utah, North Dakota, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

The two uppermost Southern states, Virginia and North Carolina, are colored gray, like other states which, so far, back a woman’s right to choose.

“If the court upholds the (Mississippi) abortion ban, people in large regions of the United States will be unable to access their constitutional right to abortion in their home state,” the brief warns. After listing the states, it notes many of the “purple” on the map “ are poised to enforce pre-viability bans that are currently enjoined or pending entry into force.”

And “11 states have ‘trigger laws’ that will outlaw abortion altogether if this court overturns Roe entirely. If these laws are allowed to take effect, they will radically curtail abortion access.”

Women, especially low-income women and women of color, would see their average travel distance needed to get reproductive rights counseling and an abortion, if necessary, “immediately increase from 36 miles to a staggering 280 miles,” that brief adds.

Since the briefs were filed with the justices, that’s what’s happened in Texas as a result of its even more draconian “bounty” law. Texas outlawed abortions after six weeks and offered $10,000 bounties to private vigilantes who turn in doctors, lawyers and even husbands driving women to clinics. For advice or operations, women have had to drive from Texas as far as Southern Illinois, if they could afford it. Many can’t, the SEIU-AFSCME brief notes.

“As a practical consequence, access to abortion would become further stratified across racial and socioeconomic lines,” the Leadership Conference-SEIU-AFSCME brief, joined by 13 other groups, says.

CLUW, the two teachers’ unions, the American Association of University Professors, and a crowd of religious—mostly Jewish–and civic groups took a slightly different tack. They emphasized Mississippi’s horrible record in denying equal rights to women, citing a wide range of measurements. Upholding its abortion ban would worsen that sorry saga.

“Mississippi’s abysmal gender disparities render hollow any argument that advances in gender equality obviate the need for the right to abortion,” their brief declared. Mississippi “cannot justify” its “contention that abortion is no longer needed by invoking laws promoting gender equality.

“Mississippi is the only state with no equal pay laws, and lacks laws ensuring people receive paid family leave or reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnancy.”

And Mississippi can’t cite “decades of advances for women” to argue the right to abortion is unnecessary, “given the state has both some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country and striking gender disparities in both economic and health outcomes.” Mississippi has “one of the largest gender wage gaps in the country, especially for Black, Latina, Native American and Asian-American women,” the groups told the court.

“Mississippi also has one of the highest overrepresentations of women in the low-wage workforce, with women making up 71.3% of low-wage workers in the state, compared with 48.5% of the overall workforce.”

The brief from the women’s sports unions and the 500 players emphasized their reproductive rights are tied together to their freedom to earn a living at their chosen sports—everything from golf, diving, swimming, baseball and tennis to wheelchair basketball.

Without the right to control their own reproductive cycles and bodies, women would be far less able to compete, they said. Notable individual signers included basketball stars Britney Griner, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, Megan Rapinoe—longtime leader of the perennially medal-winning U.S. women’s soccer team—and several of her teammates.

“Women’s increased participation and success in sports has been propelled to remarkable heights by women’s exercise of, and reliance on, constitutional guarantees of liberty and gender equality, including the right to reproductive autonomy,” they wrote.

“Continued access to, and reliance on, those rights will empower the next generation of girls and women to continue to excel in athletics and beyond, strengthening their communities and this nation. If women were to be deprived of these constitutional guarantees, the consequences for women’s athletics—and for society as a whole—would be devastating.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.