Abortion bans are not just about abortion.

Lawmakers have criminalized possession of a womb. Forbidding access to health care is one part of the nightmare. The September 2021 Texas abortion ban abets bounty-hunters on the prowl for women seeking to end a pregnancy and anyone who aids them. The June 24, 2022 U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision that overturned legal abortion, calls for open season on our bodies and lives.

This is a full-scale war on bodily autonomy and anyone associated with the female gender.   Everything from contraceptives to gender affirming care and IVF is on the line.

My union AFSCME is under the AFL-CIO umbrella. Our top leaders sit on the AFL-CIO Executive Council. In a 2021 statement, “Reproductive Justice Is Economic Justice,” issued upon signing the amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, they pledged, “This union will always stand up for the rights of working people everywhere, no matter how they are threatened.”

Since then, AFSCME locals and councils across the country, along with 23 other unions and hundreds of unionists, have signed an “Open Letter to Liz Shuler, President AFL-CIO”, calling for an emergency national AFL-CIO labor conference to strategize defense of reproductive justice.

The growing crisis

Susan Faludi’s 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women underscored the frontal assault—arsons, blockades, and invasions of health care clinics providing abortion.

Today we see the proliferation of “fake clinics” and the enshrining of fetal personhood, while resources for safe and accessible pre-natal, birthing and postpartum care are often non-existent. Black women die disproportionally from birth complications and many rural areas are now deserts for reproductive and pediatric health care.

Organized labor is needed to reverse course!

What could a national labor conference accomplish?

Reproductive health care, in all its aspects, is a labor issue. If we can’t control when and if we can safely have children, how can we plan for education, employment and union participation? By defending those under severest attack, all working people benefit! We are strongest standing together against the same forces that want to destroy our lives and our unions.

The AFL-CIO is the most powerful organized representative of working people in the U.S. Its multihued ranks of people of diverse genders, sexualities and national origin are among the essential workers who got us through the COVID-19 pandemic. They successfully take on bosses to organize unions and head up strikes. Their on-the-ground knowledge of rights and responsibilities gives them the guts and tenacity to take on the right wing. They would do a stellar job at a conference to develop a fighting defense of reproductive justice because the cause is intrinsic to their daily lives and livelihoods.

Working women, including union members in my group, Radical Women, have been an active part of organized labor since the late 1960s. Facing multiple levels of discrimination, they are among their unions’ most dedicated and tenacious fighters. Involved in every movement for social change, they mobilize people across lines of race, nationality, gender and sexuality into a mighty fighting force.

Witness the November 2023 convention of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW). Titled “Hear Us Roar” and led by Black women, it was a prime lesson in democracy and union members coming together across state lines. AFL-CIO national leadership could use it as a model for its own gathering to develop an action plan to restore and expand urgently needed reproductive care.

A full-scale, multi-pronged defense is needed to fight escalating attacks on reproductive rights, because abortion bans are not just about abortion—they are about control. Control of women’s lives and our economic future.

Mary Ann Curtis is a Naperville, Illinois-based freelance writer active in the National Mobilization for Reproductive Justice and AFSCME Illinois Retirees, Sub-Chapter 68. Contact her at; the National Mobilization at Sign the open letter to AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler at

Mary Ann Curtis is a Naperville


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