Protecting abortion rights: Sm se puede

After a rocky start, the California Labor Federation takes a stand against an antichoice ballot measure.

Published July 28, 2006 7:28PM (EDT)

Here's a small piece of good news from the great state of California: Choice advocates have persuaded the California Labor Federation's Executive Council to stand against a November ballot initiative that would restrict abortion rights in the state. Proposition 85 (pdf) is a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting abortions for girls under 18, unless a physician notifies the girl's parents in writing or she goes to court to get a waiver. (A similar initiative was on the ballot in last year's special election, but fortunately failed by a slim 52.8 percent.)

The California Labor Federation comprises more than 1,200 affiliated unions and boasts over 2.1 million members across the state, so the council's decision could have a meaningful impact on Prop. 85's fortunes. And it's great to see abortion rights framed as a labor issue. Initially the state AFL-CIO planned to offer no recommendation on the proposition, but folks from the Feminist Majority Foundation represented at the California Labor Federation's biennial convention and got the council to change its stance. Dolores Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers and an FMF board member, characterized change as a real coup for abortion rights. "It's very rare for the executive council to reverse its decision," she said.

Huerta also said that young feminists were instrumental in the unions' change of heart: "All these macho labor guys saw these young women here with their feminist shirts on and it really put a face on what were fighting for." I'm always a little saddened to see feminism presented as a battle of the sexes, but I'm also thrilled to see young women getting some recognition for their feminist chops.

At least according to FMF observers, the council's decision to oppose Prop. 85 turned the conference into a real love-in, marked by applause and chants of "Sm se puede!" A foundation intern reported that "I had three women come up to me after the vote, teary-eyed, and thanked us for being there." Furthermore, she said, "Not just women, but men were speaking out for their daughters, and unions who don't usually see a correlation between their work and young women's lives were standing up for the women in their unions." Let's get psyched to oppose not just Prop. 85, but all abortion-restricting ballot measures this November.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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