“Toxic Work Environments” at Pro-Choice Organizations

Steph Herold has a fascinating post at The Abortion Gang this week showing that it’s not just pro-lifers who are not fans of the major “pro-choice” organizations—there are plenty of diehard pro-choicers who aren’t fans, either.

In her post, titled “Toxic Work Environments in the Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice World,” Herold wastes no time getting to her point. Her opening paragraph reads:

A co-worker once told me that in her 10+ years of working in the reproductive health field, her peers in other movements validated time and again that our movement is the most f***ed up. Not f***ed up because we don’t have our hearts in the right place (we do) or because we don’t have science on our side (we do), but because of the way we treat each other, and the way our intra-movement politics operate.

She then writes:

Every so often several friends and I debate the merits of “outing” certain organizations for their legendary bulls***. Everyone knows that organization A has an executive director who’s a megalomanic. Everyone knows that two particular organizations bully other smaller organizations. Everyone knows that organization B likes to fire (almost) everyone every couple of years. Everyone knows that certain national organizations have less than cordial relationships with their local affiliates.

Herold freely admits that airing this dirty laundry is “bait for antis,” but airs it anyway.

She then goes on to get more specific, listing specific characteristics that indicate that a pro-choice organization “may be a toxic work environment.”

Her list includes:

  • There is frequent turn over and burn-out because of low pay and high stress. …
  • You find yourself having to mask your work conditions, including poor communication, bad management, and unclear organizational goals, while selling your organization to donors and supporters
  • You are underpaid and are made to feel uncomfortable for any mention of that, or for requesting to be paid fairly, because times are tough/the economy is bad/you should be putting the organization’s needs before your own.
  • Your organization only cares about marginalized people in a marginalized place (hello, low-income Texan women!) when your org stands to make a buck off of promoting their rough situation.

Feministing contributor Jos calls Herold’s post “brave and necessary,” and says that the problem of “toxic” work environments is a big problem for the pro-choice movement:

We haven’t had a major win on abortion since Roe v. Wade, and we’ve had so many losses that we’ve started calling not losing winning (ie: clinics not losing their funding).

I firmly believe that you can’t create justice in the world without creating justice in your life. Fundamentally unjust workplaces produce – you guessed it – injustice. Which is why I don’t work in a movement org anymore.

This is a serious problem, and until it’s addressed the reproductive health, rights, and justice field is going to keep chewing up young people and spitting us out. And it’s going to keep losing.

The gigantic irony here, of course, is one that self-styled “pro-choice” or “reproductive justice” advocates are wholly incapable of perceiving. Namely, that it’s quite literally impossible for any organization whose raison d’être is to keep the killing of small defenseless human beings legal to foster justice — not in the workplace, nor anywhere else.

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