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Why Paid Sick Leave is Reproductive Justice and Why Issues Like It Matter

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February 6, 2018

When we discuss the implications of mandatory waiting periods to receive abortion care, we are usually talking about abolishing them. While that is, of course, where a large part of our energy should be spent, we forget to also advocate for the socioeconomic factors that make the mandatory waiting period not only sick, but entirely restrictive.

In an ideal world, all people seeking abortions would be able to take a singular day of work off. In reality, this is far from the truth. Many women drive hours to a clinic, take days off from work and must find childcare to receive abortion care. While these restrictions flaunt themselves as a time for women to “reflect on their decisions,” they are thinly veiled roadblocks put in front of people to stop them from getting the abortion care that they desire.

Reproductive justice, in its inherent nature, looks not only to legislative restrictions on reproductive health care itself but also to the other factors that affect someone’s ability to receive care. One of the most pressing issues we face presently is worker’s access to paid sick leave, particularly when seeking an abortion. When we forget about paid sick leave, we overlook an integral part of access to abortion and reproductive care.

For anyone seeking an abortion, taking even just one unpaid day off from work could mean the inability to pay rent or utilities, to care for other dependents or even, the loss of a job. This predicament forces workers to decide between financial security and seeking healthcare, both which should not be mutually exclusive.

In the context of mandatory waiting periods, people who live rurally are required to take multiple days off, which jeopardizes their job security even more. This issue predominantly affects both women of color and low-income women, who are more likely to hold jobs with widespread pregnancy discrimination, resulting in many of these folks keeping their reproductive status secret for their own economic security. With that, people working in low wage fields are the least likely to have paid sick leave, but the most likely to rely on daily income to keep up with routine living expenses.

In reproductive justice, all things are delicately interconnected. Even if we do all we can to make sure abortion is easily accessible on the policy front, we must remember that too many will be completely unable to reap the benefits. Advocating for abortion expands outside of merely fighting for its legal accessibility, no matter how large an ask that may seem. When we do not address the broader societal issues that keep millions in cycles of poverty, the most pressing being access to reproductive care, we only see a fraction of a more substantial systemic picture.

Workers rights are inherently reproductive rights, and paid sick leave is an extraordinarily tangible way of ensuring all people seeking abortion can receive it.

In my hometown of Austin, Texas, city council members along with the organization Repro Power have proposed a new local bill to require all employers to offer paid sick leave for all employees. In the proposed ordinance, workers would earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked, capped at eight days a year.

While there is no shortage of fights to be had in the Texas legislative body on reproductive rights, this issue is likely to pass at a city level. Though it is not sweeping legislation like many we discuss in the reproductive justice community, it is an accessible way to advocate for reproductive rights.

Whether you are from Texas or otherwise, I urge you to contact your city council members with overwhelming support for similar ordinances.
Reproductive justice does not have to be grand, dramatic, or affirmed in the Supreme Court to be impactful in our daily lives and paid sick leave stands as an example of that.

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