Sure, we all saw it coming, but it doesn’t mean that the decision didn’t sting. As New York Times Magazine’s Staff Writer Jenna Wortham wrote in a recent tweet, “Intellectually knowing that something is coming does not prepare you for the devastation in the body when it hits.” Watching the our constitutional right to an abortion (after almost 50 years) being ripped out from underneath us is a feeling we wouldn’t wish on anyone—and yet, we’re mourning with hundreds of millions of people in the US and around the world. The unbelievable truth is now our reality, so how do we even begin to move forward?
And how do we go back to work after grieving our reproductive rights and pretend like everything is suddenly ok (when that couldn’t be further from the truth)?
We spoke with Dr. Sarah Saska, the co-founder and CEO of Feminuity and Keith Plummer, Feminuity’s director of research and learning, about how workplaces can provide support, guidance and understanding to their teams in a post-Roe world.
Before we get into it, we want to make one thing clear: While employers should definitely show up in this moment, support their teams and make their stance clear, abortion access should not have to be tied to someone's work or larger participation in capitalism—especially given that abortion bans hit low-income women, who may not be employed by companies with progressive benefits packages, the hardest.
“It’s important that managers do not ignore the emotional toll of recent events,” says Plummer. “Given that one in four people will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute, this issue is a sensitive and personal subject for many team members. As team members process events, managers can be empathetic and flexible regarding requests for time off, deadlines that are not hard deadlines, or if they find their teams are struggling to remain productive. Leaders can take the time to meet with team members one-on-one to give direct reports the space to communicate their needs and challenges they are facing.”
Here are some other ideas:
- Provide financial assistance for travel and the cost of the procedure to people who will need to go to another state to obtain an abortion and to their partners.
- Provide specific paid-time off (PTO) for when people (or their partners) get an abortion.
- Provide relocation benefits for people who will want to move away from a jurisdiction that is legally restricting abortion access.
- Establish a legal defence fund for employees who might face legal action for obtaining an abortion.
- Create a philanthropic relief fund to offset the cost of abortion that is accessible to communities living in restrictive regions.
What this decision means for managers and employees
“Even in jurisdictions with exceptions, strict abortion regulations will also lead to medical professionals delaying needed care to people who have an ectopic pregnancy, other pregnancy complications which require an abortion, or a miscarriage that might require immediate, emergency access to abortion,” says Saska. “These professionals will fear that they will be in violation of the law by simply providing life-saving medical help. The US already has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any country in the European Union (EU) and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Overturning Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to privacy in the US opens future challenges to other landmark decisions rooted in the same reasoning:
- The right to interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia),
- The right to obtain contraceptives (Griswold v. Connecticut)
- The right to engage in private, consensual sexual acts (Lawrence v. Texas)
- The right to same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges)
The outcome of this case is also therefore detrimental to the human rights of the LGBTQIA2+ community and racialized people. Moreover, over half of the United States’ Black population lives in the South, where many of the abortion bans are almost certain to take effect.
Most importantly, teams should approach conversations about the overturning of Roe v. Wade in a way that prioritizes what the needs and concerns are for those that are most acutely impacted by this decision, and how the organization can support them through this.”
Adds Plummer: “The United Nations Human Rights Commission and countless other human rights entities have stated that highly restrictive abortion regulations infringe on people’s rights to health, privacy and, in certain cases, the right to be free from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. There will be disastrous, and in some cases deadly, mental health impacts for those forced against their will to carry a pregnancy to term even in cases of rape and incest. Lack of access to safe abortions—whether through setting unreasonable gestational limits, closing clinics, or outlawing the procedure itself—is also an enormous public health issue which will lead to the unnecessary harm and/or death of people that now have to terminate a pregnancy in unregulated, high risk settings.”
How to talk about abortion in the workplace
“First, remember not to frame abortion in these discussions as only a ‘women’s issue’ as this can alienate and erase transgender men and non-binary people assigned female at birth that also have the potential of pregnancy in certain circumstances,” says Plummer.
“Center team discussions about abortion through the lens of human rights, not through specific political orientations and opinions. Employees and management should not invoke party lines. Political discourse is frequently designed to be polarizing, reduce complexity and limit constructive dialogue. This is not to say that organizations shouldn’t take meaningful action in the wake of injustice or cease funding to political figures who seek to limit basic human rights, but the rationale should be rooted in values, not partisanship or group affiliation.”
How to create a safe space for discussion
“Fundamentally, bringing our most thoughtful, intentional, and empathetic selves as we share information and engage with our teammates is the most powerful thing we can each do to preserve everyone’s sense of security and belonging,” says Saska. “All team members should remember that a safer/braver space has failed if the people who are most affected by this issue, come away from the space feeling even more exhausted, disheartened or isolated than before.”
Organizations can co-create safer spaces that reduce the possibility of re-traumatization by:
Embrace transparency. Be clear about the expectations, goals, limitations and the itinerary for the space.
Know your resources. Be ready to share any organization-specific resources and inclusive policies in addition to local community resources that could provide support for people especially in the area of mental health and healthcare access.
Protect the space. Facilitators should be vigilant that participants are behaving in accordance with the values and purpose of the safer/braver space. Facilitators should take immediate action if someone is violating the sanctity of the space.
Validate people’s pain and struggles. Enable people to vulnerably share their stories, acknowledge their suffering and try not distract from it by sharing your own story immediately in response.
Use inclusive language. Communicate in ways that are affirming and not overly biased or inflammatory. Actively consider lived experiences different from your own.
Avoid violent communication. Refrain from overly critical interactions designed to punish, shame, humiliate or isolate each other. Allow space for vulnerability, courageous dialogue, learning and positive change.
Promote empowerment. Come into the space centering the understanding that people are the experts on their own experiences, that trauma can be overcome and that healing is always possible. Try to share decision-making with the group as much as possible and encourage collective goal-setting.
Be mindful of representation. Try to ensure that a wide cross-section of identities, backgrounds, levels of leadership, departments, roles and lived experiences are represented in the space (unless the space is intentionally for one particular community).
Establish shared working agreements. Make this collaborative among everyone in the space before getting into the discussion. Ask people what they need most to engage in the space vulnerably and without fear.
Name injustices explicitly. Leave no confusion that your organization understands that exclusion, bias, inequity, underrepresentation, marginalization, oppression and injustice exist and affect your workplace. Unequivocally denounce and name ‘isms.’
Protect everyone’s privacy. Someone may share something personal, ask a question or say something they wouldn’t want to be attached to their name outside the safe space. It is important to respect their confidence and exercise discretion.
Offer multiple mediums for sharing. Some people will prefer to share verbally, some written and some anonymously. Leave room for all of these methods of participation so every voice can be acknowledged.
Check-in. After the discussion, be sure to follow-up and check-in with people through various communications channels. Communicate reminders around confidentiality, key takeaways from the space and potential action-items.
Want to learn more? Feminuity has even more resources on their website about fostering a more inclusive, supportive and accessible workplace.