“The Business Case for Supporting Reproductive Rights,” a 2019 research from Harris Poll and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, a nonprofit that advocates for reproductive rights, found that 80 percent of adults believe that reproductive freedom is a human right and 70 percent of employees want abortion to be safe and legal."
In sum, You cannot support reproductive rights without formal caregiver support.
Often, in the performing arts and media, this means maintaining policy that allows for medical time away, right to privacy on health decisions, right to privacy on family decisions, and not expecting for women - or any gender, for that matter - to want or not want a family. This conversation on pursuing family is never a workplace matter, only how to support whatever decision the individual makes. This decision is viewed as a protective right that employers and colleagues have no right to opinion or discrimination against.
Many folks in the performing arts and media may anecdotally express progressive ideas on the right to choice and family planning, but the question to ask when building a sustainable and supportive workplace is "does our policy, work culture, and support of our contributors reflect the right to choice and family planning?"
The Danger of Weaponizing the Word "Choice"
The rights of women, birthing people, and people who choose not to have children must also be respected and dignified in all social and professional perspectives, conversations, and practices.
While Choice must be supported in caregiving, the word "Choice" must never be weaponized against a caregiver as reason for withholding support.
Language such as “we have no obligation to support them because they chose/it was their choice to have a child,” is rooted in classicism, racism, and misogyny. These claims neglect communal responsibility and uphold biased and privileged perception of caregiving. To correct it: acknowledge that caregiving is not always a “choice;” to assume so ignores a vast range of complexities such as access to healthcare, biological variability, and the unpredictable - and often sudden - reality of elder and other dependent care, among other diverse circumstances.
Use "choice" when referring to the institution with power to choose in this way: to withhold or create support, placing the obligation on the institution instead of the individual.
The intersection reality of the word "Choice" is so impactful, that to use it as language to withold support can cause racial, gendered, psychological, and emotional harm. Choice should be offered as a means to provide support, not avoid it.
Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and individuals who live at the intersection of identities encounter pervasive reproductive health injustice. Many lack health insurance, and with it, coverage for essential services. Black and Indigenous patients are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than non-Hispanic White patients."
"Reproductive rights don’t just entail an employee’s decision to not have children or terminate a pregnancy; they also include employees who want a family."
IVF/Fertility/Surrogacy/Reproductive Health Support
"While the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does not yet provide any recourse for couples seeking fertility treatments, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) does. According to their 2014 Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination:
Because surgical impregnation is intrinsically tied to a woman’s childbearing capacity, an inference of unlawful sex discrimination may be raised if, for example, an employee is penalized for taking time off from work to undergo such a procedure. (See example 5 in EEOC’s Guidance). Employees terminated for taking time off to undergo IVF—just like those terminated for taking time off to give birth or receive other pregnancy-related care—will always be women. This is necessarily so; IVF is one of several assisted reproductive technologies that involves a surgical impregnation procedure . . . Thus, contrary to the district court’s conclusion, Hall was terminated not for the gender-neutral condition of infertility, but rather for the gender-specific quality of childbearing capacity."
- Reproductive Resource Center, Kansas City IVF
"Fertility treatments involve an emotional rollercoaster of uncertainty as well as a huge investment of time and financial resources, Klein said. Each round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) can cost as much as $15,000 to $20,000, according to experts, and surrogacy can cost as much as $135,000."
- Amy Klein,
"Infertility affects 1 in 8 people, so there's a good chance there are employees at your company undergoing treatment. When you add same-sex couples and people with diseases like cancer that might require fertility interventions, the number can be even larger"
- Betsy Campbell,
chief engagement officer at The National Infertility Association in McLean, Va.
"Same-sex couples going through fertility treatments or using surrogacy to start a family also are dealing with uncertainty. 'There is a lot of uncertainty about the timeline and a lot of stress regarding financial issues,' said Ron Poole-Dayan, executive directive and founder of Men Having Babies in New York City. Couples using surrogacy have additional challenges because they might need to travel to another state to visit the surrogate or go to appointments with her, Poole-Dayan said. 'Sometimes people don't acknowledge this is happening to you since you're not pregnant [or] you're not getting the treatments," he added. 'But we still feel all the ups and downs.'"
Ways to Support
Because the cost of supporting reproductive health, fertility treatments, surrogacy is not only financial but also social, emotional, and physical, the workplace has - even if not a legal obligation - an ethical and compassionate obligation to create a supportive work environment.
In our field, specifically, and in general practice this can mean:
Be forward-facing with your reproductive support policies and make them available to all staff and freelance contributors (you don't know who is family planning or undergoing family formation, nor is it appropriate to inquire, so the best practice is to be transparent and make it visible and available to everyone.): "If a company offers fertility benefits, HR should educate managers and employees about those benefits and explain that employees are under no obligation to tell their manager that they are having fertility treatments. They need only say they need to take time off for medical reasons"
Train supervisors, staff, and company members that at-times-legal, always ethical and compassionate support of a safe and healthy work environment includes respecting and supporting family planning and formation
Maintain clear lines of communication regarding workplace support when someone shares they need workplace support. The process and experience is ever-evolving
Maintain privacy if any personal information or experiences are shared, but do not expect for the individual undergoing family planning or formation to share any information or experiences. The process is often deeply personal and complex. Show support with "yes and" and anticipatory engagement for how the workplace can feel safe and stable.
Plan flexible work arrangements in general ahead of time and give agency to the individual undergoing family planning or formation to apply these flexible arrangements to their circumstances
Allow for these flexible work arrangements to include time off from rehearsal and include that language in the policy
Train staff and supervisors to support a workplace that allows an individual to experience emotion without having to share why or be seen as unprofessional.
Provide caregiver affinity spaces for communal support and make them inclusive and educated on reproductive health experiences
Reduce harm and remain compliant by never speaking of expectation (i.e. "when will you know?" "are you pregnant yet?" "when are you having children" and other family planning inquiries)
When creating accommodations for the individual that involves other people, don't share the reason why so that privacy is maintained. Helpful language to use is "We want to accommodate this employee just like we would want to accommodate you and want to respect everyone's privacy," (SHRM)