Skip to main content

labor ‘Labor Must Defend the Rights of Women’: Unions Blast SCOTUS Draft Opinion Ending Federal Right To Access Abortion

Labor must clearly tap into this well of anger and outrage over a decision that dates back to the 17th century. Labor needs to defend the rights of women.

Pro-choice activists protest the leaked draft opinion that called for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.,

 In the draft Supreme Court majority opinion leaked to Politico, Justice Samuel Alito eviscerated the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision as well as the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey that reaffirmed a woman’s access to abortion was protected by the U.S. Constitution.

The formal overturning of Roe v. Wade, which could come in the next few months, has been long anticipated. But longtime court observers were struck by the strident tone of the proposed opinion which reportedly has the support of Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. 

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito, in the leaked draft of the majority opinion. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

“In the 98-page opinion, the court ignores the significant impact of its ruling on women’s lives and health,” wrote Kathryn Kolbert, an attorney, who argued Casey before the Supreme Court, in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  “By removing federal constitutional protection for women, states will now be free to ban all abortions at any stage of pregnancy, and at least 25 states will do so. Many states already have enacted laws that are ready to take effect with the demise of Roe and Casey.”

Kolbert continued. “The sheer number of women and families affected is staggering. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 58% of U.S. women of reproductive age — or 40 million — live in states that are “hostile” to abortion. Hundreds of thousands of them will be unable to legally obtain abortions where they live. As a result, women will have to travel hundreds of miles or risk prosecution for obtaining abortion pills.”


AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler tweeted “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.”

In a statement Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, blasted the draft opinion as “not just a radical assault on our rights and settled law, it is an attack against the majority of this country and the ideals upon which it was founded.”

“The Constitutional right affirmed by the court in 1973 to safe access and the legal right to an abortion was transformational for women’s rights and our jobs,” Nelson wrote.  “Cabin crew fought executives who exploited our sexuality and pushed gender inequality to undermine the dignity of our work and push the value of our labor into their own pockets. We organized to define our careers, keep our personal choices as our own, and lift up our role in saving lives as aviation’s first responders.”

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

Nelson continued. “In the earliest days of commercial aviation, we were allowed few choices in the workplace. Every part of our bodies and our lives were dictated by management. Airlines only hired white, single, childless women under age 32 who met specific height, weight, and male-defined appearance standards. Even if you met those ‘standards,” getting pregnant, having a baby, choosing to marry or gaining a few pounds meant giving up your job and handing in your wings. Our first demands as a union were seniority-based scheduling, to stop managers from using schedules to coerce us to choose between sexual exploitation and earning a living.”

“I was on the generation when I knew the women who were fighting for legalized abortion because my mother told me of stories of what used to happen in backrooms when people would use [coat] hangars to commit abortions and many women died because they did not get the proper care,” said Gloria Middleton, president of CWA 1180 which represents 9,000 city administrative managers. “Whether  you believe in abortion or not, we believe at 1180 that a woman must be able to have a choice of what she should do with her body.”

Middleton predicted the rolling back of abortion protections would energize women voters across the country to go to the polls in the upcoming bi-annual Congressional elections, where voter participation usually drops off.


“We are outraged at the Supreme Court’s apparent decision to overturn precedence on women’s constitutional right to health care, privacy and safe abortion,” wrote Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, in a statement. “Our history as a union members reminds us that every right and benefit is hard fought and only maintained through continued struggle. The constitutional right to privacy regarding reproductive health is in peril. If our highest court takes that right away, we must fight for legislation to guarantee it.”

“The draft opinion leaked on May 2 from the Supreme Court would undermine Roe V. Wade and decades of reproductive rights for women in the U.S,” said the New York Nurses Association in a statement. “As nurses and healthcare professionals, we affirm women’s right to healthcare and full reproductive healthcare services, including abortion. At a time when other democratic countries around the world are expanding women’s reproductive rights, the U.S. must not go backwards.”

“The leaked draft opinion from the radical right wing Supreme Court would be a massive and sickening step backwards in this country,” said Kyle Bragg, president of SEIU 32 BJ which represents 135,000 workers. “It would inflict the largest rollback of basic rights in a generation and unwind decades of progress for women. The justification for this opinion rests on a medieval worldview and it sets the stage for an even larger assault on fundamental freedoms and protections. It’s an opinion cooked up by an illegitimate majority who advances a vision of America that caters only to Christian straight white men. What an utter disgrace.”

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, representing 150,000 workers, said in a statement the proposed decision would be “one of the worst contractions of freedoms in modern US history” that  “would directly harm the welfare of our union sisters and kin.” 

IATSE continued. “We know well the catastrophic consequences that follow when authoritarians legislate control over our wombs, bodies, and lives. Taking away the option to receive compassionate reproductive care in the form of safe, legal abortions will disproportionally harm working-class people, force unwilling parents into poverty, worsen the already unacceptable maternal mortality crisis, imprison innocents for their biological functions (including miscarriages), and cut short far too many bright careers and lives.”


“In light of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on abortion rights, we want to reaffirm our Guild’s commitment to fighting on our members’ behalf against inequality and discrimination,” wrote the Writers Guild of America West. “Women’s rights are human rights, and any laws that ban or limit a woman’s right to choose are dangerous and set a precedent for further erosion of our collective civil rights.”

The Writers Guild of America West went so far as to ask that television producers and movie studios factor in a state’s existing abortion laws before committing to locations.

“We call on our employers to consider the laws of each state when choosing production locations to ensure that our members will never be denied full access to reproductive healthcare,” the union added.  

Neither the New York State AFL-CIO nor the New York City Central Labor Council had any plans to issue a statement and did not offer a comment for this story. Historically, the unions have found a reliable ally in the Catholic Church on worker rights issues.

Jane Latour is a New York-based labor historian and educator as well as an award winning journalist who worked for AFSCME DC 37. She said during a phone interview that in the past, labor leaders tried to stay on the sidelines of the fractious abortion debate out of fear that it would divide their rank and files along religious and partisan political lines. 

“In all my years in the labor movement, I have seen just one attempt to address this issue directly,” Latour said. “I remember that the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW) had a big conference about abortion and their president Tony Mazzocchi stood in front of this large group talking about this issue with a lot of passion — but generally, it’s seen as such a divisive issue they are worried they will alienate part of their membership.”

Labor historian Joe Wilson believes some of the trade unions that are still male-dominated don’t really appreciate the whole impact of the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

“This is a delayed time bomb,” Wilson said. “As the practical implications are felt with women really losing their freedom, that impact will reverberate and labor will come to realize it has to take a more progressive  position, especially as women across the labor movement and the nation push and demand change and control over their own reproductive rights. But labor must clearly tap into this well of anger and outrage over a decision that dates back to the 17th century. Labor needs to defend the rights of women.”