PTLFC Board Statement: Reproductive Rights Are Labor Rights

“Reproductive freedom is critical to a whole range of issues. If we can’t take charge of this most personal aspect of our lives, we can’t take care of anything. It should not be seen as a privilege or as a benefit, but a fundamental human right.”
—Faye Wattleton

On December 1, 2021, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights to challenge the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi law that banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi is one of 21 states that have passed, or are poised to pass, restrictive abortion laws. Most experts believe the Court’s ruling in Dobbs, due this summer, will uphold the Mississippi law, thereby ending, or severely curtailing, the constitutional right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. This right has been the law of the land since Roe v. Wade (1973). Overturning Roe will not end abortion in America, but it will make it dangerous and deadly for millions of Americans who seek it.

How does this concern the PTLFC-AAUP-AFT, our Rutgers adjunct faculty union?

In our work on behalf of contingent faculty at Rutgers and around the country (via Higher Ed Labor United), the Executive Board of the Part-Time Lecturer Chapter fights to uphold the values of equality, fairness, justice, and dignity. These principles are indivisible—and fundamental to everything we do. We believe that none of these values can be upheld in a country that denies half the population the right to reproductive freedom, including access to safe and legal abortion. We understand that the morality of abortion is a deeply fraught question about which persons of goodwill can have different views. But we are also convinced that unless everyone has the right to determine whether and when to have children, equality in the workplace and on campus is simply not possible. This issue affects our students in particular: as educators, we believe that every young person deserves the opportunity to pursue their education and plan their futures without fear that an unwanted pregnancy will derail them.

Further, overturning the constitutional protection of abortion rights and banning abortion in nearly half of U.S. states will disproportionately affect the most economically vulnerable among us. Abortion restrictions already harm millions of people who cannot afford to travel to obtain safe abortion and who lack health insurance to pay for their reproductive care. The U.S. already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world, and poor women and women of color in particular suffer the consequences of unequal access to care. If the courts end our constitutional right to abortion, it will only exacerbate the gap in reproductive health care due to institutional racism and lack of economic opportunity.

We join with labor unions, human rights organizations, student groups, and a majority of the American public to commit ourselves to protecting the right to reproductive health care and access to all reproductive health services. We oppose, in the strongest possible terms, banning access to safe abortion. We affirm that reproductive rights, including access to safe abortion, are human rights that no state legislature or present composition of the courts should infringe. We call for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment because access to abortion and other reproductive health care is a constitutional right and no one seeking such care should be denied because they cannot afford it. We also affirm that people who choose to have children should have guaranteed paid parental leave, affordable health care and child care, measures that are common in virtually every other developed nation.

Finally, we call upon fellow unions that currently support and endorse anti-abortion legislators to reconsider this support. It is our firm belief that elected officials cannot simultaneously support labor rights while denying half of the workforce the right to reproductive choice. As the Adjunct Faculty Union of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, we specifically call on labor unions to withdraw support for Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th district), a long-time, outspoken opponent of abortion rights.

We are living in perilous times. Democracy is under attack in ways we could not have imagined just a few years ago. Labor unions must fight for higher wages and job protections, but they must also be part of a larger movement to protect human rights and defend our constitutional democracy. 

PTLFC Executive Board (13 votes in favor; 1 abstention)