Abortion is a Class Issue
an op-ed by Lora Kwon
Dear Asian Youth,
Inaccessible healthcare first and foremost affects lower-income individuals. The fight over the right to have an abortion is no different. In places like the United States, the abortion rate has declined almost 40% since the 1990s, and yet while in 1994 only about a quarter of women who had abortions were low-income, half of all women who had an abortion in 2014 lived in poverty (NY Times). The growing number of people who live under the federal poverty level, along with the lack of access to effective contraceptives, are often cited as possible factors for this shift. Most importantly, these statistics point out that restricting access to abortions will have a significantly more profound effect on lower-income women.
The 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade set the precedent that abortion is a constitutional right. Although the right to a safe and legal abortion is not in immediate danger, as of January 2021, 19 abortion-related cases were close to being reviewed by the Supreme Court (Planned Parenthood). Additionally, individual states are often looking for ways to not only limit abortion access but to reverse Roe v. Wade itself. The Guttmacher Institute claims 483 provisions that restrict access to abortion care have enacted between 2011 and 2020, while NPR points out that 22 states are likely to ban abortions if Roe v. Wade is reversed. All women will be affected by these potential changes. But fighting for the right to have an abortion is not just a a women’s rights issue: it is also a class issue.
To start, the restrictions that affect accessibility to abortions vary wildly from state to state (Planned Parenthood). For example, in Alabama, patients are required to wait 48 hours between their state-mandated abortion counseling and receiving the abortion itself. Minors also require parental consent. In states such as Washington and Nevada, these restrictions are not in place. As a result, if necessary, many women will move across state borders for this procedure. The Guttmacher Institute details abortion during the late 1960s, when the only way to have a abortion in the United States was to recieve committee approval. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, affluent American women realized that they could travel all the way to the United Kingdom, where abortion was legalized, to recieve this procedudre. In 1970, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, and New York legalized abortions; but all of these states, except for New York, required women to be residents of the state for at least 30 days prior to the procedure. Because New York did not have this requirement, wealthy women seeking abortions often made trips to this state. Over 100,000 women traveled to NY in order to receive legal abortions in the year before Roe v. Wade finally provided the right to an abortion for all women in 1973. The New York City Department of Health confirmed that the expense of traveling plus the price of the procedure itself ensured that only the most affluent women had access to these abortions in New York.
Theoretically Roe V. Wade solved this issue, but similar events are happening today on a smaller scale. A Lancet Public Health Report used their data to create the graphic below. The differing colors represent the median distance to the nearest abortion provider by county in 2014.
Evidently, finding a clinic to get an abortion is overhwhelmingly difficult in central United States, with many counties having the nearest abortion provider over 180 miles away. As abortion accessibility decreases, the more women will have to travel long disances just to obtain an abortion. This puts lower-income women at a huge disadvantage.
Not only do lower-income women have greater difficulty obtaining abortions, but their socioeconomic status also suffers more from the burden of an unwanted child. After all, if a woman is unable to afford contraceptives or the $0-$1000 it costs to have an abortion, how in the world is she supposed to afford raising a child? (Planned Parenthood). The cost of the pregnancy itself -- which factors in regular check-ups, prenatal care, and delivery -- is anywhere from $5,000-$11,000 (SmartAsset). A middle-income family spends around $12,980 a year per child, with this cost increasing as the child gets older (USDA). Additionally the Brookings Center on Children and Families cites that “...unplanned childbearing is associated with higher rates of poverty, less family stability, and worse outcomes for children.” In other words, the women who are most likely to be unable to receive an abortion due to abortion restrictions, are the ones who need this money the most. It is not fair how abortion restrictions will force this financial burden on lower-income women and then criticize these same individuals for their inability to provide prosperous lives for their children.
Finally, on a more extreme note, restrictive abortion practices will encourage more people to seek illegal abortions. The Guttmacher Institute cites a study by the Center for Disease Control, which shows that the number of illegal abortions in the US dropped from upwards of 130,000 to 17,000 between 1972 and 1974, the three year period in which Roe V. Wade was enacted. As a direct result, the number of deaths as a result of illegal abortions reduced from 38 to just five. A lack of accessibility will only further encourage these potentially lethal practices.
Preventing women from having abortions is an unjust and unfeasible punishment. If pro-lifers really cared about lowering rates of abortion, they would focus on investing in marginalized communities to prevent the need for abortions in the first place, as opposed to preventing women in need from receiving necessary procedures. A study by BMC Women’s Health found that 40% of the women in the study cited financial reasons for having an abortion and 36% of women simply stated the timing was not right. Instead of trying to outlaw abortions, people should be foccusing on improving social welfare programs that will help out women who need financial help, or improving the foster care system so that women without enough money can feel comfortable that their child will be safe. In addition, improving sexual education and access to contraceptives, especially in lower-income areas, would reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and in turn reduce the number of abortions. We all want to lower rates of abortions and rates of unwanted preganancies. However, outright banning women from an abortion is not the solution.
About one in four women in the US will have an abortion by the age of 45 (Guttmacher Institute). This is a necessary, and incredibly widespread, procedure that many women choose to have. Abortion is not just a argument of morality or religion. People need to stop using this hot topic to push their religious and/or political agendas because restrictive abortion policies will have terrible consequences on millions of women, and these effects will be most profound in lower-income populations. We need to continue to fight for the rights granted by Roe V. Wade and ensure that existing social inequity does not spread as a result of abortion restrictions.
- Lora Kwon