The right to abortion has always been intertwined with economic stability for women and their families. But against the backdrop of the current economy, rife with low-wage job opportunities, attacks on public benefits, and overall rising poverty, the recent wave of abortion restrictions being introduced at the state and federal levels leave women and their families in an especially troubling triple bind. Women dominate low-wage sectors, and they are still responsible for most domestic labor and child-rearing responsibilities, all while facing aggressive attempts to restrict their reproductive freedom. If upheld, new abortion restrictions in Texas and other states around the country could help push more women and their families deeper into poverty.
When people choose to terminate a pregnancy, they often do so because of finite economic resources—among many other reasons. New York Magazine recently published the stories of 26 women who have had abortions. Among those women is Red, age 30, who works in retail in Pennsylvania. “In 2008, I was pregnant by my boyfriend Steve,” Red told the magazine. “We worked together at Target. He wanted to get married and have the baby. I was barely supporting the son I had, still living with my parents.”
s a parent raising a son and opting for an abortion, Red is not alone: 61 percent of women who have abortions already have at least one child already . Retail jobs like Red’s often pay less than $10 per hour. These jobs often do not offer health insurance and push many workers into relying on public assistance. Low-wage jobs like retail jobs are growing fast in the United States , and more than 60 percent of these jobs are held by women.
States with tough abortion restrictions are hotbeds for these economic trends. For example, in 2012 more than two-thirds of workers in Texas earning a minimum wage were women; Texas passed HB 2, an omnibus anti-abortion law, over the summer. And Oklahoma, arguably the “reddest” state in the country, boasted 64,000 workers who earn at or below the federal minimum wage—58 percent of whom were women.
The Hyde Amendment has long thwarted financial support for poor women seeking abortions by blocking Medicaid coverage of abortion care in many states. And abortion restrictions that cause clinics to close force women to spend more time away from work or pressure them to carry to term
—further destabilizing their economic situation. According to a Guttmacher Institute fact sheet released last month, more than 40 percent of women seeking abortion are at or below 100 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Twenty-seven percent are above poverty level, but those women earn only 100-199 percent of federal poverty rates and are thus still considered poor:
Their relative abortion rate was more than twice that of all women in 2008 and more than five times that of women at 200% or more of the poverty level. The abortion rate for low-income women was three times that of better-off women. Not only do poor women have above-average relative abortion rates, the abortion indices suggest that the difference increased between 2000 and 2008.
“Over the years, I have spoken to hundreds, if not thousands, of women in Texas who are struggling to raise children they already have,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told RH Reality Check. “These women already had barriers in affording an abortion while struggling to make ends meet. Given the challenges already in place for them, HB 2 and laws like it make accessing an abortion at a clinic completely out of reach.”
The economic struggle is not just about living paycheck to paycheck—it is about building a legacy of poverty with long-term effects on the children many mothers are working hard to raise. In a recent piece for The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger discusses research by scholars from Yale, Cornell, and the University of Michigan showing that poverty taxes the brains of children raised in poor households, which can affect children’s cognitive development throughout their lives. Researchers theorize that “early experiences of poverty become embedded within the organism, setting individuals on lifelong trajectories.”
Badger also pointed out that “poverty taxes the ability of parents to be good parents. Which effectively means that poverty harms everyone in a family, although perhaps in different ways, contributing to cycles where poverty perpetuates itself from one generation to the next.”
Abortion restrictions assault women’s constitutional rights and lead to fewer options for many women and girls across the board. But at the heart of restricting reproductive choice lies this economic truth: Abortion restrictions have always disproportionately affected women of lower socioeconomic means. Many women today are both working inside the home, to raise children, and outside of it, where many jobs only enable them to rake in meager earnings. With the recent wave of 20-week bans occurring in a particularly damaged economy and a political climate in which public benefits are being slashed raises the question: What is the long-term objective of anti-choice activists in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and other states where reproductive rights are being rolled back? Rather than the health and wellness for children and families, the priority seems to be a myopic political agenda—revealing again the fallacy of right-wing claims of valuing life.