Research by Maya Cruz, Bridges Center Research Assistant

Thank you to the Washington State Labor Council for their collaboration in the inception of this research brief and in the final product.


Key Takeaways:

  • Reproductive justice, and more specifically abortion access, is essential for achieving economic justice.
  • Working Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are more likely to be negatively impacted by attacks on reproductive rights due to systemic racism.
  • Unions have the power and responsibility to educate and empower their members to fight back against racist, classist, and sexist attacks on human rights.



In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization[1] (Dobbs), the Supreme Court ruled against the almost 50-year constitutionally protected right to safe abortion. By overturning Roe v. Wade, Dobbs allows states to set their own policies concerning abortion and access to reproductive care. While many states have chosen to protect abortion access, others have chosen to restrict peoples’ right to reproductive services. Abortion access encompasses not just reproductive justice, but also impacts safety, workers’ rights, racial justice, and economic justice for people who can become pregnant and their families.

Abortions occur whether they are legal or not, and when abortion is made illegal or inaccessible, more unsafe abortions occur. The World Health Organization (WHO) has found that unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of death for pregnant people and lead to millions of preventable disabilities.[2] In addition, restricting abortion access for people who can become pregnant may lead to more unintended pregnancies, which may increase the pregnant person or child(ren)’s[3] health complications, intimate partner violence, and further economic disparities.[4]

The post-Dobbs landscape has seen restrictions to abortion access across the United States, with fourteen states outright banning abortion.[5] Those who live in restrictive states must now travel farther distances to be able to access abortions. In Idaho, where abortions are banned, one must travel anywhere between 200 and 400 miles in order to reach the nearest clinic that provides abortions.[6] This creates a substantial increase in both the cost of travel and lost income due to taking time away from work.[7] Such a financial burden can make abortions entirely inaccessible for those with low incomes. People who are denied an abortion at the state and economic level have increased chances of reaching poverty just six months after denial.[8]

Not only does abortion denial result in negative economic outcomes for working people, but such denial is often rooted in racism and enacted by right-to-work states that have a sustained history of disempowering workers through low wage standards and restricted collective bargaining power[9] . The resulting economic hardship from abortion denial is especially exacerbated for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who already face higher rates of forced pregnancy and poverty due to systemic racism,[10] and barriers to accessing healthcare, such as limited resources and discrimination.[11]  Immigration status also compounds the impact of post-Dobbs abortion restrictions as undocumented immigrants and those with differing status risk detention and deportation when traveling across states such as Texas, which has both restrictive abortion bans and a large number of Border Patrol checkpoints scattered throughout the state.[12]


State policy

While abortion remains legal in Washington State, more people are likely to travel from out-of-state, including from neighboring Idaho, to seek abortion and abortion-related care. In 2021, nearly a thousand non-residents received abortions in Washington State, with people traveling from 41 states and Canada to receive an abortion.[13] Between April and October 2022, there was a 12% increase in Idaho residents traveling to Washington for abortions.[14] In response to the increase in restrictive laws across the country, Washington has amended RCW 5.51.020 to protect providers and out-of-state recipients of abortions from any investigations that seek to punish them.[15] With 36 clinics[16] providing abortions in Washington State and with laws protecting both providers and patients, the state has taken steps to ensure abortion remains safe and accessible in Washington.

The state of Oregon has recently dedicated $15 million in abortion care for those coming from other states, alongside the 2017 Reproductive Health Equity Act which ensures that anyone has access to abortion in their state.[17] In December 2022, California amended its constitution to explicitly protect reproductive rights for Californians.[18]

In June 2022, Washington, Oregon, and California issued the Multi-State Commitment to Reproductive Freedom. A joint effort from the governors of each state, the document acts as a written commitment to protect and defend reproductive freedom against any further attempts at subjugating the vast population of people who can become pregnant.[19] Following this effort was a 21-state governor-led coalition called the Reproductive Freedom Alliance, announced in February 2023.[20] Together, these states that span across the country hope to work together to strengthen the protections for abortion access and reproductive services.


The union impact

In recognition of the detrimental impact that Dobbs poses for workers, especially BIPOC, labor councils and unions from diverse industries have released statements and resolutions in support of bodily autonomy and the right to access safe abortions. Ranging from education to the trades, unions from various industries have recognized the impact that abortion access has on all workers, not just those who can become pregnant. Many provide this type of support to show their members that despite efforts to get rid of abortion access at the state and federal level, their union or council will have their back. Some, like NewsGuild-CWA, have moved to include coverage for abortion access in collective bargaining agreements,[21] hoping to provide members with access to reproductive care as uncertainty surrounding access continues to grow.



  • AFL-CIO: “We strongly believe that everyone should have control over their own bodies, including decisions over their personal reproductive health care… This ruling will only deepen racial and economic disparities. The burden of this decision will undoubtedly fall on low-income women and gender-oppressed people, and no one should be forced into financial insecurity because they have been denied reproductive health care.”[23]
  • Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO[24]: “Abortion rights are workers’ rights…The decision if or when to have a family is an economic decision that impacts wages, benefits, and working conditions. Our labor movement includes working people who have abortions, whose loved ones have had abortions, and who provide abortion care. These workers and their families — particularly Black & Indigenous folks and people of color — face serious harm when access to reproductive health care is limited or denied.” 
  • SEIU Healthcare 1199NW[25]: “Reproductive freedom is a matter of public health. Our union stands united in fighting against the disparity of negative health outcomes BIPOC people face, including a Black mortality rate during childbirth that is nearly double that of white folks. Making abortion illegal will not stop people from obtaining them as our past has shown us, it simply relegates those with the least resources — low-income, BIPOC, and other marginalized and at-risk people — to the worst possible health outcomes. These decisions will have negative impacts on the health of our communities — yes, including fatal consequences that could, and should be avoided in a just world.”
  • International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT): “The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe is a direct attack on the working people of this country. This decision, made by unelected and unaccountable people, will hurt millions of people, particularly women, the poor, and the disadvantaged. The extremists on the Supreme Court who don’t believe in reproductive rights also don’t believe in the most basic labor rights.”[26]
  • American Federation of State, County Municipal Employees (AFSCME): “Reproductive rights are workers’ rights. Reproductive justice is economic justice. The decision about when and whether to bear children is fundamental to the ability to pursue self-sustaining work. And the burden will fall most heavily on communities of color, low-income families, immigrant populations, people who are already marginalized.”[27]


  • Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO: “The right to abortion is essential to preserve the status of people with uteruses as independent citizens, including trans-men/masculine and non-binary folks, broadening economic and social justice in the labor movement;” and “the labor movement is positioned to adopt a reproductive justice framework that fights for working people to have the resources they need to make reproductive choices freely.”[28]
  • Oregon AFL-CIO, submitted by Oregon Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU): “Reproductive justice and reproductive rights are workers’ rights, and we will seek reproductive justice by defending and supporting efforts to obtain and maintain healthcare for working people that covers all reproductive care.”[29]
  • Texas AFL-CIO: “Having access to affordable health care, including reproductive care and abortion, is essential for all workers, and all workers should be able to decide when and how they start a family on a timeline that works for them,” and “the Texas labor movement must lead in this moment and be an outspoken advocate for better protections for women and pregnant people in the workplace and in collective bargaining agreements.”[30]



Abortion denial and restriction is a direct attack on working communities, especially BIPOC and the working poor. Neither economic justice nor racial justice can be advanced if these attacks on bodily autonomy continue at both the state and federal levels. The Dobbs decision has only emboldened those in positions of power to oppress people who can become pregnant - those who are often working people who depend on their jobs for themselves and their families. For these workers the right to self-determination, already restricted by economic oppression, is further limited by attacks on the right to decide if and when to have a child. Dobbs threatens workers’ decision-making power both in their personal lives and in the workplace.

Abortion restrictions further exacerbate the impacts of sexism, racism, and classism in employment. Employers in restrictive states view the capacity to get pregnant as a disadvantage to those seeking employment, as they likely will not have the choice to terminate the pregnancy, rendering their perceived productivity and value to the employer null.[31] Many who have the ability to take the time off work to access an abortion will risk income loss and increased economic hardship if they can even afford it in the first place. If they cannot afford to take these additional personal and financial risks, abortion denial puts them at increased risk of poverty, something that can be avoided if given safe access to abortion.

As states continue to restrict the right to access safe abortions, these policies seek to disempower workers by stifling their voices and decision-making power. Organized labor has the infrastructure and skillset to combat these attacks at the state level, and to ensure that workers have sustained accessibility to abortion care even in states with protections. Defending and expanding reproductive rights, and bodily autonomy rights more broadly, is an essential aspect of unions’ work to achieve economic justice and build power for all working people. Unions can provide education and resources to their members, and fight for abortion access language in collective bargaining agreements to aptly provide the necessary support on abortion access and reproductive justice. Unions can collaborate with each other and/or with their labor councils on resolutions that will bring attention to and act towards providing further reproductive protections to their membership, especially for those who are low-income and those who experience structural racism. Fighting for abortion access and reproductive justice is essential for growing organized labor’s power and defending the rights and wellbeing of people who can become pregnant, and their families.



[10] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[22] The listed statements and resolutions are not all-encompassing. They are only a few examples of who is expressing support and how.