For many on the left, Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court has prompted worried speculation, especially in relation to reproductive health and rights. To understand what's at stake in his potential rise to the court, though, we need look no further than the recent trends of the institution he'd be joining, which are in alignment with the Trump administration's own priorities. The Supreme Court's recent public sector union and crisis pregnancy center decisions, with President Trump's appointee Justice Neil M. Gorsuch voting with the majority, will bolster the conservative assault on women's health and economic security that has been underway for the past decade.
These recent developments will embolden conservative lawmakers to step up their attacks on both reproductive and labor rights, with detrimental impact on women and their families.
Economic inequality in the United States is greater today than at any time since the Great Depression, and that inequality is deeply radicalized and gendered. White women remain trapped in a wage gap where they are paid 82 percent of what their white male counterparts are paid, with black and Hispanic women being paid 65 and 58 percent, respectively. Disparities persist even in occupations that are dominated by women, and more than eight times as many women as men work in jobs that pay poverty-level wages. Many of these jobs do not offer benefits, such as paid sick leave, paid family leave or employer-based health insurance, and the race and gender wealth gap leaves women without the resources to pay for benefits not provided by their employers or the safety net. The economic insecurity that results is a pathway for a host of negative health outcomes for women and their children.
Just as economic insecurity affects health, so too, does reproductive health access affect economic opportunities. Women report that using contraception allows them to get and keep a job, to advance their careers, to further their education, and take care of themselves financially. Indeed, the increased use of the birth control pill has been credited with women's increased labor market participation. The Turnaway Study — a research endeavor that aims to understand the effect of unintended pregnancy on women's lives — illustrates the revolving door between poverty and a lack of reproductive health access. Forty percent of the study's participants had incomes below the poverty line. Forty percent of participants reported that they sought out abortion services because they couldn't afford to have children.
Unions, and especially those in the public sector, have been important sites for combating race and gender inequities, and the Janus v. AFSCME decision strikes at their heart by cementing more than a decade of GOP attacks on labor rights. The fallout will negatively affect all workers but will especially hurt women, who make up the majority of public sector workers and who are disproportionately women of color.
There's certainly more where that came from. As women's already precarious work becomes even more insecure, their need for publicly funded health services will increase. The problem, of course, is that conservatives also have reproductive rights — and health access more broadly — squarely in their crosshairs.
In the past seven years, states have enacted 401 abortion restrictions, accounting for more than a third of all such restrictions put in place in the 45 years since Roe v. Wade was decided.
We are witnessing the willful destruction of the institutions and infrastructure that are key to the health and well-being of women and families and also to that of our economy and our democracy. This is what the war on women — which is also a war on workers — looks like.