Access to safe and legal abortion over the last five decades has had a tremendous impact on women. It’s an issue that impacts labor force participation and career opportunity, as well as the health of the economy. As we reported in our recent package, “The Business Case for Abortion Access,” state-level abortion restrictions also reportedly already cost the U.S. economy about $105 billion each year, due to women leaving the workforce, reducing overall earnings, and increasing turnover. That will only increase as more bans and restrictions go into place.
Lack of access to safe and legal abortion also significantly raises the risk of maternal death. And all of this is to say nothing for the outcomes for the children born into families that lack the resources to care for them. We, of course, are still a country without paid parental leave, or universal childcare.
But even with national legal abortion, individual experiences varied wildly, often because of the pregnant person’s employer, their insurance coverage, or the state they lived in. While most major insurance plans cover some abortion care, they are often intentionally difficult to parse. And low-wage workers who juggle several part time jobs are often without health insurance or are covered by Medicaid, which thanks to the 1976 Hyde amendment, does not cover abortion care.
So one’s employer has a large impact on one’s experience in receiving abortion care. Nearly one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion in their lives. But because this form of healthcare has been politicized and stigmatized, we often don’t hear about their personal experiences—especially as they relate to work.
On the most recent episode of The New Way We Work reporter Lushik Wahba spoke to Emma Hernandez, who has had two contrasting abortion experiences. The difference was due in part to her age, partners, life phase, and the state she lived in. But it was also largely due to her employment situation. The first time, in 2015, Hernandez was 21 and working multiple part-time jobs.
“I was working at Starbucks as a barista; I was working at a marketing firm. I was also doing some freelance graphic design work. In all of those positions, I didn’t qualify for any paid time off. And so, taking time off definitely meant I would have a smaller paycheck, that was going to impact my life in general because I already had the unforeseen expense of seeking an abortion. I did not have insurance at the time. I did not have any sort of medicaid that I qualified for. I didn’t have any insurance, so it was completely out of pocket.
[The entire] experience was honestly very difficult and isolating. I kept it quiet, I didn’t tell anyone beyond my partner that I was making this decision. I had a very difficult time through that abortion, taking time off from school; taking time off from work. It was basically juggling a medical decision I was making that I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone about and trying to keep it a secret, which is not something that is very common when you’re doing other medical decisions.”
Then, seven years later, in February of this year, Hernandez found herself in need of abortion care again. This time her her experience was vastly different, in large part because of her employer. Hernandez works remotely in San Antonio, Texas for the reproductive justice organization We Testify as a communications manager.
“I found out I was pregnant the morning we had a staff meeting. By that afternoon, I was able to share with my boss and my coworkers that I found out I was pregnant. It was great to be able to say, “Hey, I’m pregnant,” and the response be, “Oh, so what option are you looking at?” And to be very frank and just say, “I don’t want to continue with this pregnancy. I’m gonna be seeking an abortion,” [and] have our boss say, “Well, let me know if you need any resources or if I need to connect you with anyone,” because they understood the situation is very delicate within the state of Texas.
My boss also told me that if I could not access an abortion within the state of Texas, that our medical plan would provide coverage for travel to, say, New Mexico to access abortion services. And so, within a few minutes of me disclosing to our team that I was pregnant and I wanted to terminate the pregnancy I was given information and resources about what my options were through my employer.
My boss was very forthcoming and providing me options, should I need to take time off, reminding me I have sick leave that I can apply toward this. They also sent me a bouquet of flowers the weekend that I was going to have my abortion. And then they also sent me a care package with a bunch of stuff to help me relax.
If didn’t have that experience, it would’ve been so much more difficult, because I work from home. I’m very isolated. I’m the only staff member that lives in the state of Texas.
It really was a healing experience. I don’t feel a need to keep a secret. It’s a medical decision I made; it was the best one for me. I think sometimes, people think that seeking an abortion or having had multiple abortions means that we don’t value the experience of motherhood or the experience of child bearing. But for me, I’m an individual who really looks forward to one day being a mother and I just want to make sure that I’m in the best position to do so when I get to it. In the meantime, I’m speaking openly and honestly.
Listen to the full episode for more of Hernandez’s story.