Onerous anti-abortion laws are designed to make abortion inaccessible — and by design they harm poor women and marginalized populations the most.
Originally published on Broadly, April 5, 2018
Imagine that you’re a 24-year-old woman living in Lubbock County, Texas, and you've just discovered that you’re six weeks pregnant. You know you can’t afford to carry a pregnancy to term at this point in your life, so you decide to get an abortion. However, you make an hourly wage of $13.20—which is 82 percent of what your male counterpart earns—and you’re uninsured, without credit or savings. Like 60 percent of women seeking an abortion, you are also a young mother. The nearest abortion provider is 300 miles away (one way), and you’ll have to visit the clinic twice to comply with Texas’ 24-hour waiting period law.
The clinic tells you that your procedure will cost $600. This is in addition to the cost of gas ($42), hotel accommodations ($160), lost wages ($316), medication and maxi-pads ($50), and childcare ($200), which adds up to a total of $1,368—or 65 percent of your monthly income. Depending on your current financial situation, this may be an inconceivable expense for you, especially if you lack support from a partner or family members, you’ve recently had car trouble, your child is sick, or you’re experiencing any number of hardships that women in poverty face.
Abortion is subjected to much harsher restrictions than any other kind of legal medical care, despite being one of the safest surgical procedures in the world. It’s because of these restrictions that accessing abortion is becoming increasingly expensive; for obvious reasons, the rising cost disproportionately affects low-income women. Conservative legislators have enacted hundreds of medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers in the past decade—needlessly mandating that they be outfitted like a surgical center, for instance, or forcing them to enter into agreements with nearby hospitals. Laws like this have contributed to the closing of dozens of abortion clinics across the country—so much so that 87 percent of all US counties have no abortion provider, forcing women to travel incredibly long distances to terminate unwanted pregnancies.
The lack of providers also contributes to longer wait times for appointment availability, pushing some women past the legal time limit to obtain the procedure in their state. Twenty-seven states also require women to receive counseling, then wait a certain amount of time—between 24 and 72 hours—before getting an abortion. Fourteen require patients to get this counseling in-person, meaning they must make the trip to the clinic twice. This has the potential to increase travel costs by hundreds of dollars, or to necessitate an overnight stay, depending on your zip code.
Eighty percent of those in Congress are men, with a median net worth of $1,008,767. The women in their lives will be able to terminate their pregnancies no matter how dire things are for the average American.
Perhaps the most flagrant offense against low-income women is the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, which prohibits Medicaid from being used to pay for abortion services, making it prohibitively difficult for the 6.5 million American women who obtain health care through Medicaid to get a safe and legal abortion. This legislation is particularly cruel, given that 75 percent of abortion patients are poor or low-income. And it's especially harmful to women of color, who disproportionately rely on Medicaid for coverage. (According to Planned Parenthood, 30 percent of Black women and 24 percent of Hispanic women are enrolled in Medicaid, compared with just 14 percent of white women.)
These anti-choice laws result in unequal access, create unnecessary hardships, and place women at risk by delaying their medical treatment. Copious research had found that restrictions around abortion access are totally ineffective at reducing abortion; instead, they put women’s health, safety, and wellbeing at risk. That’s because abortion is already extremely safe when performed in the right setting, with complications occurring in less than one percent of procedures. Delaying abortion care, conversely, increases major complications, costs, and emotional distress.
The entire system creates a vicious cycle of poverty. That’s because women’s socioeconomic success is intrinsically tied to their reproductive lives. In fact, forcing women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term quadruples their odds of living below the federal poverty line, and laws that restrict abortion access have proven to deteriorate economic outcomes for women. Family planning is key to achieving life goals, and unwanted pregnancies can prevent women from obtaining an education, fulfilling their career aspirations, and reaching financial self-sufficiency. The situation is exacerbated by America’s shameful lack of paid maternity leave, childcare subsidies, and flexible work hours.
Not only does this negatively impact access to opportunity for mothers, it also affects the health and wellbeing of unplanned children born into economically unstable families without the support and resources of many of their peers. While the government adamantly promotes forced motherhood through strategically attempting to defund family planning resources like Planned Parenthood, they are simultaneously unwilling to invest in programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to help those same mothers and children succeed.
Anti-choice measures are not only harmful to individual women and families: Our economy suffers as a result of them as well. Endless studies have shown that women’s workforce participation fuels economic growth, and exclusion stifles the national economy. Female economic empowerment is critical to national prosperity, with the possibility of boosting the US economy by $4.3 trillion in just 10 years if we could manage full gender equality in the workplace. We will never see these economic gains if we continue to restrict access to family planning resources.
How is it possible that the fictitious crusade to save “unborn lives” has been deemed more important than the health and wellbeing of families, opportunities for social mobility, and a robust national economy? Aren’t these the things Republican lawmakers say they support? Perhaps it’s difficult for legislators to understand the impact of anti-choice legislation because they simply do not represent the people. After all, 80 percent of those in Congress are men, with a median net worth of $1,008,767 and an insurance plan that subsidizes 72 percent of their premium costs. The women in their lives will be able to terminate their pregnancies no matter how dire things are for the average American. If the clinics around these wealthy women are forced to close down, they’ll be able to afford travel and hotel fees comfortably. If abortion is banned outright, they’ll leave the country for safe and legal procedures.
There’s no question that the system is rigged against low-income women. We have a corrupt, sexist, racist, classist government, filled with officials who hide behind exaggerated images of fetal remains to justify their abhorrent attacks on women and the impoverished. We live in an America where rich women have access to all of the resources they need to pursue their goals, achieve financial success, and support their families, while the rest of us—like the women from Lubbock County, Texas—are faced with insurmountable burdens. Forced motherhood is the epitome of class warfare, and we have no choice but to fight tooth and nail for control over our reproductive lives if we want to put an end to it.