The “Double Bind” of Anti-Choice Policies & Workplace Discrimination

What do you call it when lawmakers restrict access to abortion–but also fail to implement family-friendly workplace policies that would enable women to support themselves and their children?


A double bind. Or here in Pennsylvania, we call it business as usual.

To wit: In recent months, the Pennsylvania Legislature has fast-tracked one the most severe abortion bans in the country. House Bill 1948 seeks to force doctors to use a method that is less safe than the standard procedure as a way to punish women for having an abortion, and also seeks to deprive even patients with wanted but unviable pregnancies of standard care, like this Texas woman who was forced to endure the days-long experience of her body expelling the fetus, against her will, because of a similar ban.

Meanwhile, a bill to increase breastfeeding rates to improve infant health has stalled for more than a year. Same deal with bills proposed to close loopholes in our equal pay law, and with a bill that would address discrimination of pregnant workers, and one that would extend sexual harassment protections. Minimum wage is still the lowest permitted by federal law, so working full-time with two children still means falling thousands of dollars below the poverty line. And paid leave? Forget about it. We get zero weeks.

A new report published by the National Partnership for Women & Families finds that Pennsylvania is not alone in manufacturing this double bind (though we are one of the worst). And it turns out, which we already knew, pro-choice means pro-family: the states with the fewest restrictions on abortion coverage tend to offer stronger workplace protections and supports.

From the report, which you can read here:

Ensuring women have the freedom to decide if and when to have families, or to expand their families, is especially important to their economic security in light of the lack of policy supports for new and expecting parents. Many women do not have the workplace supports they need during and after pregnancy. An estimated quarter of a million women have been denied reasonable pregnancy-related workplace accommodations each year, and many more are not asking for the accommodations they need. Just over one in five worksites offer paid maternity leave to all workers. Having a baby is the most expensive health event that families face during their childbearing years, and it is estimated that nearly 13 percent of families with a new infant become poor within a month.

The double bind disproportionately affects women of color, who are more likely to be Medicaid-eligible and working in a low-wage job without family-friendly workplace accommodations. The Hyde amendment is a federal ban on use of Medicaid funds to cover abortion, leaving such coverage to the states.

Unlike the majority of states touching our borders, Pennsylvania does not allow state funds to cover abortion through Medicaid. Pennsylvania does however funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to crisis pregnancy centers, which have been found to provide women with false information about abortion in an attempt to dissuade them from having an abortion. (Real Alternatives, the organization that distributes this funding, is currently under audit.)

Tomorrow, a resolution calling on state and federal government to lift insurance bans on abortion coverage will be introduced in Philadelphia City Council. Stay tuned.

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The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in Pennsylvania devoted to advancing the rights of women and girls.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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