Commentary Law and Policy

In Search of Solidarity: Vastly Different Responses to Michigan’s “Right to Work” and Attacks on Right to Choose

Angi Becker Stevens

Those who seek to dismantle unions and those who seek to deny women's bodily autonomy are not two separate groups with two separate motivations. They are the same conservative politicians, motivated by a desire to protect their own interests by preserving the current hierarchy—one which places rich white men at the top of the social and economic order.

This past Tuesday, I was among the more than 10,000 men and women who descended on Michigan’s state Capitol to protest the signing of “Right to Work” legislation that will likely have disastrous consequences for our state’s working class. I feel very strongly about workers’ rights, but I was also there to protest the dangerous attacks on reproductive rights that have been making their way through the state’s legislature; along with a multitude of labor unions, Planned Parenthood had also issued a call for supporters to join the demonstrations in Lansing Tuesday morning.

I was dismayed, however, by the response from many union protesters toward my “Keep Abortion Legal” sign. One man walked by angrily shouting “stop abortion as birth control!” Another man stopped short of criticizing abortion itself, but commented that the sign instead should say “stop aborting our unions, stop aborting our rights,” implying that the issue of actual abortion had no place at this particular protest. And one of my companions and I both felt ourselves to be the subject of more than a few glaring looks. Not exactly the kind of mutual solidarity we were hoping for.

To be fair, there were a reasonable number of union men of all ages sporting “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” stickers, and one man stopped to tell me how strongly he supported women’s right to control our own bodies. But the fact that there is even a divide on the question of reproductive rights among those who champion the rights and needs of the poor and the working class is a continual disappointment to me.

The very next day after Right to Work was signed into law, the MI Senate voted in favor of HB 5711, the “super-bill” considered one of the most extreme pieces of anti-abortion legislation in the country. I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between those two days everywhere from progressive media outlets to my own social networking feeds; Tuesday’s legislation had brought on an outpouring of anger and frustration, but there was near silence in response to the passage of HB 5711. I’m certainly not suggesting that we shouldn’t be outraged by Right to Work, because we absolutely should be furious about it. But we need to be equally outraged by egregious attacks on our reproductive freedom. And what’s more, we need to recognize that they are both attacks on the working class.

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Though women from across the economic spectrum choose to end unplanned pregnancies, it is clear that economics will always be a factor for women who are facing unintended pregnancy; many women choose abortion when they feel unable to financially support a child, especially when they already have one or more children they’re struggling to support. Because of the Hyde amendment, these women are already ineligible for any federal Medicaid funds for abortion, and many are forced to work extra hours or make personal sacrifices in their desperation to raise the money necessary to obtain an abortion.

Now, in Michigan, many women are also being denied any possibility of private insurance coverage for abortion. Legislation is also about to pass that will give employers the right to refuse insurance coverage of birth control, making it more difficult for women who cannot pay for contraception out of pocket to avoid unplanned pregnancies in the first place. And HB 5711, when signed into law, will place a multitude of burdens on women who are in precarious economic circumstances. Its ban on the tele-medicine prescription of medical abortion will primarily impact women living in rural areas, many of whom are poor and live a great distance from abortion clinics; for these women to incur travel expenses, as well as the necessary time away from work if they’re employed, is a great burden that will make abortion significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

And because HB 5711 will also impose a number of costly regulations on abortion clinics and providers, it is likely that even women in many suburban and even urban areas will find themselves without an easily accessible clinic to which to turn. At clinics that do manage to keep their doors open under the new guidelines, it can be expected that abortion costs will be driven even higher. In summary, as is always the case with with restrictions on abortion, these barriers will have the greatest impact on those with the least resources. And as Right to Work laws push more people toward or below the poverty line, it becomes even more terrifying to consider what the future of abortion access will look like for women in Michigan. If this does not qualify as a class issue, then I’m not sure what does.

This is not a matter of attempting to piggy-back some lesser, “special interest” issue onto an issue thought to have a greater amount of social and economic importance. The need for accessible and affordable abortion is huge: more than one in three women obtain an abortion at some point in their lives, and few things can possibly impact a woman’s life more than being forced to continue an unintended pregnancy. And again, the consequences of forced pregnancy are most disasterous for women in the most dire economic positions, who often become more financially dependent on men and less able to pursue possible educational and career opportunities when forced into motherhood. The economic equality of women can and must be a goal of working class struggle, and that equality is impossible to achieve if we are not permitted basic self-determination and control over our own bodies.

Michigan is traditionally a “blue-collar” Democrat state, where so-called “social issues” frequenty take a backseat to economic ones; openly anti-abortion Democrats are frequently elected to local office. But the time is long past due to recognize that the supposed divide between “economic issues” and “social issues” is a myth. Social issues are economic issues. And any politician who claims to stand up for the poor and working class, while simultaneously denying poor and working class women the basic right to control their own bodies, should be denounced as a hypocrite.

Those who seek to dismantle unions and those who seek to deny women’s bodily autonomy are not two separate groups with two separate motivations. They are the same conservative politicians, motivated by a desire to protect their own interests by preserving the current hierarchy—one which places rich white men at the top of the social and economic order. The oppression of the poor and the working class and the oppression of women might function in slightly different ways, but both serve the same oppressors. Rather than allowing ourselves to be divided by so-called “special interests,” we need to recognize our common enemy, and stand in solidarity to defend all the rights of the working class.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.