I have blogged for the last couple of years about the need to put job creation ahead of social issues and to agree to disagree on abortion because, at the end of the day, most people have their minds made up about their personal views on the issue. I have acknowledged that abortion is not something the average woman is thinking about as she goes about her day. Instead her thoughts are usually on her household budget and other matters related to the economy. I could vote Republican because I honestly believed no one would try to overturn a women’s right to choose. Not 40 years after women were protected in this way. 

But we women in Missouri cannot look the other way when we are being used as bargaining chips in showdowns between the state legislators and the unions. Female union members, of which I am one (Sag/Aftra), need to meet the obligation that goes with those automatic paycheck deductions, approved just this week. If a teacher or any other female union member is going to have money automatically deducted from her paycheck to pay for a union’s political activities, she should have a say in how those monies are spent. My guess is a lot of these women don’t realize what just happened. Hopefully, when they discover that Missouri is now the 3rd most restrictive state in the country when it comes to protecting choice, they will step up and let their leadership know how they feel.  We’re being asked to wear pink Converse sneakers as a form of protest. I encourage women across the state to join in bringing attention to this matter by doing the same. 

A little background is in order. The unions have been fighting Right to Work legislation. They were not working to restrict women’s access or increase it. But an extreme faction within the Republican party is aware of what a divisive and powerful wedge issue abortion still is and so, they were willing to give up paycheck protection in exchange for making it harder for women to get legal reproductive services at the sole provider remaining in this state. Why? Because it will motivate the far right in an election year. 

22 male state senators voted earlier this week to allow unions to deduct fees for political efforts from employees’ paychecks in exchange for a 3 day waiting period for a safe, legal abortion. They decided to back off on a Right to Work issue in exchanged for being allowed to limit women’s access. One Republican legislator admitted the goal is to stop abortion altogether in this state. And our GOP party chairman has repeatedly called the Republican Party of Missouri, the “Right to Life” party.

Many women, like myself, want a reason to vote Republican but it is an ultra conservative wing within our male leadership (not all but a loud and mighty few) that are driving them into the Democrat’s tent. They continue to co-mingle religion and politics as a means to promote their extreme right agenda. This is yet another example. 

I’ve always said when asked about unions and politics that it isn’t up to government to decide whether unions are doing their jobs. It is up to union members. After all, unions are their own form of governance. And in this case, female union members will have to decide where they fit in and if those automatic paycheck deductions are being used the way they would like. Are pro-choice women in Missouri being adequately represented by their union leadership?   

Granted, abortion is a last resort, “a tragedy best left up to women”, as Illinois businessman and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner put it. It isn’t something anyone celebrates. But when there is only one safe, legal provider left in this state, it is critical that women not stand by passively while our rights are being chipped away at.  

Agreeing to disagree is very different from looking the other way when a woman’s dwindling rights are being further eroded. 

Ideally, states should be able to decide. But if you look at the demographics between the rural and urban populations in this state and consider the divergent views on guns and abortion, we need to reconsider the broad swath of political might that is being applied in negotiations like this week’s. The divide between urban and rural, which is much discussed in Missouri, is being aggravated by a divide between male and female leadership.  And we have seen no better example of how a dearth of women in leadership or negotiating roles for both unions and political office has led to this latest travesty.