Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Healthcare Unions Must Take Up the Fight for Abortion Rights

Healthcare unions must take up the fight to make sure everyone has a right to free, safe, legal abortion on demand. Abortion is healthcare and healthcare is a human right.

Mike Pappas

May 12, 2022
Facebook Twitter Share
Luigi Morris

The recent leak of a draft Supreme Court decision confirmed what many have expected for some time: the Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Democrats, meanwhile, have proven time and time again they will not protect the right to abortion. As a healthcare worker who previously worked in a primary care clinic providing abortion care, I know that abortion care is life-saving health care, and it should be available to all as a human right. 

The only way to protect this right is by mobilizing in the streets and in our workplaces. Healthcare worker unions throughout the country must mobilize their members to fight back against this decision.

As we have written,

This monumental decision will make abortion illegal or all but illegal in dozens of states across the country as soon as it is announced, making access to an abortion almost impossible for tens of millions of people overnight. This decision is an attack on all people who can get pregnant; in many states they will be forced into illegal and unsafe abortions, expensive trips out of state, or be forced to give birth. Working people, working people of color, and poor people in particular, who often do not have the means to travel several hundred miles to reach a clinic willing to perform an abortion will be most affected.

“Abortion is healthcare and healthcare is a human right!” This refrain, chanted in the streets just last week, cannot be more accurate. As healthcare workers who strive to protect the heath of our patients, a threat to abortion rights is a threat to patient health, especially to the health of the poor and oppressed. 

However, while some unions, like Starbucks Workers United, have put out statements condemning the leaked decision, healthcare worker unions — many of whom literally provide abortions — have been silent. Unions like National Nurses United (NNU) — the largest nurses union in the nation — or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — the largest union of healthcare workers — have been silent on this issue. The union I was previously part of, the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), which represents thousands of resident physicians around the country, has also been largely silent. There has not been so much as a statement condemning the recently leaked decision — just a single retweet from the SEIU account — and certainly not even close to any call for members of these unions to act. 

It is absolutely inexcusable that the largest healthcare unions in the U.S. have been completely absent. High school students are walking out of classrooms and actions are being called by various organizations because they all understand the threat that overturning Roe v. Wade poses. So why have the major institutions of labor in healthcare not come to the same conclusion? 

While unions in the U.S. have historically focused on issues restricted to their workplaces, such as increased wages, shorter work hours, or improved working conditions, labor organizations have helped to win the right to abortion internationally. Polish workers went on strike in 2016 pressuring the government to vote down an abortion ban. Unions in Ireland launched a coalition in 2016 to help win the right to abortion and same-sex marriage in 2019. Rank-and-file union members organized actions as part of the “green wave” in Argentina to help win the right to abortion in 2020. Workers organizations have been at the forefront internationally to win these rights. We should be seeing similar mobilizations in the U.S. 

As Left Voice member Olivia Wood wrote in October,

Because of its controversial nature, the bureaucrats in union leadership are unlikely to take up this fight without pressure from the rank and file, and even then, they will likely work to contain the militancy of their members. This makes it even more important for workers to take matters into their own hands, remember that we are the union, and stick up for our fellow workers, both in our own workplaces and across the country. “Workers of the world unite” is not simply a slogan: it’s a call to action and a strategic imperative.

Since the leaderships of the healthcare unions clearly won’t take these steps, rank-and-file healthcare workers should force their unions to mobilize. To be clear, unions using their power to fight for the right to abortion would not mean giving a donation here or there toward a “pro-choice” politician’s campaign or calling members to “vote next cycle.” It means using the vast resources these unions possess to actually mobilize and support members who take action. 

It also means workers potentially calling for work actions or strikes to protect the right to abortion, and healthcare workers organizing workplace committees to discuss how to protect abortion rights. For example, each healthcare center could have committees discussing and organizing around how healthcare workers could take tangible steps to defend the right to abortion. In states where abortion would be immediately outlawed as a result of this decision, it would also mean healthcare workers actively defying abortion ban laws and keeping clinics open. It would be crucial for healthcare worker unions to support and back these efforts in whatever ways possible.

Mobilizations obviously should not be limited to healthcare sectors. Healthcare worker unions should fight across labor sectors with, for example, teachers’ unions and other labor unions. As workers, we make the world run and our power lies in our workplaces and our power to shut shit down. This is how fighting labor institutions could take a role in tangibly interevening to protect the right to abortion — as part of a mass movement to protect abortion rights. 

Winning the right to safe, legal abortion on demand will come from the streets and workplaces — not the offices of capitalist politicians. Healthcare labor institutions have so far been quiet, but they should take up this fight head on today.

Facebook Twitter Share

Mike Pappas

Mike is an activist and medical doctor working in New York City.

Labor Movement

CUNY workers at a demonstration hold a banner that reads "STRIKE TO SAVE CUNY."

CUNY Workers Launch New Strike Campaign

As Governor Hochul proposes another $528 million in cuts, workers at the City University of New York are fighting back.

Olivia Wood

February 12, 2024
With the U.S Capitol in the background, demonstrators rally during the March on Washington for Gaza at Freedom Plaza in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

AFL-CIO’s Ceasefire Call Shows Power of the Movement for Palestine

The AFL-CIO has called for a ceasefire in Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza. The labor movement must go further for Palestinian liberation and break with the bipartisan regime.

Otto Fors

February 11, 2024

After Historic Strike, UAW Bureaucrats Sit By as Stellantis Lays Off Hundreds of Workers

Only a few months after a historic contract struggle and strike, Stellantis announced job cuts in early December that have begun and will continue to take effect this month. A reminder that under capitalism the only way for workers to get what they need is self-organization, independent of the union bureaucracy, Democrats and Republicans.

Emma Boyhtari

February 2, 2024
Joe Biden and Shawn Fain, UAW president, standing on a stage together. UAW has endorsed Biden for president.

The UAW’s Endorsement of “Genocide Joe” Is a Betrayal of Palestinians and Workers

The UAW has endorsed “Genocide Joe” for president, betraying Palestinians and workers. It’s time for labor to break with the Democrats.

Otto Fors

January 29, 2024


Why German Media are Lying About the Palestine Solidarity Movement at the Free University of Berlin

A rally in front of the Free University of Berlin had as many journalists as demonstrators. This is yet another example of the international campaign to defame all protests against Israel's genocidal military campaign.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 16, 2024
Aftermath of Israeli bombing of Rafah, Gaza.

Israel Told Palestinians to Evacuate to Rafah — then Bombed Them

After instructing civilians to evacuate south, Israel has bombed the southern border city of Rafah. It’s not about eradicating Hamas — it’s ethnic cleansing.

Sou Mi

February 12, 2024
IMT leader Alan Woods giving a speech.

Are You a Communist? Then Let’s Talk about the IMT

The International Marxist Tendency, led by Alan Woods, is rebranding itself as “the Communists.” Does this represent a shift to the left? Sort of. Yet decades of opportunist positions do not disappear overnight.

Nathaniel Flakin

February 12, 2024
A NYPD officer arrests a masked pro-Palestine protestors wearing a kaffiyeh while other cops and masked protesters look on.

Attacks on the Pro-Palestine Movement Are Attacks on the Right to Protest

As the movement for Palestine against Israel’s brutal military invasion of Gaza and attacks on the West Bank continues at a lower intensity than last fall, the State is cracking down on the leaderships of the movement and rolling back gains made by the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020. The movement must grow in order to fight back against repression and protect our democratic right to protest.

Carmin Maffea

February 10, 2024