Abortion rights advocates gather in Smith Park in Jackson, Miss. (AP)
We’re barely more than a week into 2013, but Michigan has been very busy lately. As a pre-holiday gift to workers, Governor Rick Snyder signed a “right-to-work” bill into law after the Republican-controlled state house passed it 58-51, making the payment of union dues voluntary for most unions and thus severely weakening their power. Just over two weeks later, Snyder signed another bill into law restricting abortion access for the state’s women. The bill prohibits telemedicine prescriptions for medical abortion, hampers clinics with new costly and challenging requirements and places new barriers between women and the procedure they seek through “coercion screenings.”
Two extreme measures, but ones that aren’t directly related, right? One is clearly about “economic issues,” the other about “social issues.” Yet those who are hurt by both are, as is so often the case, low-income women. Michigan has shone a spotlight on the inextricable link between economic and social issues when it comes to the right-wing agenda. And we can only expect more of this news from statehouses as the year progresses.
Michigan already holds the distinction of being one of the worst states for women’s pay equity. It ranks number seven at the bottom of the list, with women making just seventy-four cents for every dollar Michigan men earn. The right-to-work bill will only make this problem worse. The Economic Policy Institute has found that these laws lower wages for both union and nonunion workers in a state by an average of $1,500 per year. That’s a huge amount of money to lose for women who are already behind. Meanwhile, it finds no link between these laws and economic growth. In fact, if Michigan wanted to change its place at the bottom of the list for paying women equally, it would be promoting unionization. A study by Center for Economic and Policy Research found that unionization raised women’s wages by over 11 percent, or about $2 per hour, compared to non-union women. Being in a union makes a woman more likely to have health insurance or a pension than getting a four-year college degree.
The low-income women who will bring in less in the wake of the right-to-work law will also now likely have to shell out more money should they have an unwanted pregnancy. They already likely struggle to pay for abortion, as the state prohibits public funding for the procedure to women who are enrolled in state medical assistance program except if the pregnancy threatens her life or is the result of rape or incest. But the new bill will go further. The new regulations that abortion clinics will have to meet could be so costly that clinics could be forced to close their doors. That would mean women who seek abortions would have to travel farther away—an expense in itself, on top of the cost of taking any time off work. By also reducing access to telemedicine, even more women would be cut off from services. Low-income and rural women who don’t have doctors nearby are able to access safe and necessary abortion services remotely through telemedicine—but that’s now prohibited.