If Democrats Compromise On Abortion, Women Will Pay An Enormous Price
When Ruby Sinreich got pregnant at 17 years old, she decided to have an abortion so that she could go to college without the added pressure of raising a child. After all, she was still living with her parents and relied on them "100 percent," except for a minimum wage summer job. “I often think about what would have happened if I hadn't had the abortion," she tells Bustle. "I would have been lucky if I graduated from college at all.” Being able to access the procedure enabled Sinreich to go to school to get the skills she needed to become financially stable. Today, her career as a web developer allows her to support her 8-year-old son.
For Sinreich and so many other women, reproductive rights are an economic issue, and one that they will not compromise on. Being able to access an abortion is intrinsically linked with being able to choose when, how and if to start a family, and the ability to provide for that family, according to Destiny Lopez, the Co-director of All* Above All, a nonprofit which aims to bring together people and organizations to lift the ban on public insurance covering abortions. “If you don’t have that ability to make that most personal of decisions, it ultimately impacts our economic future and those of our families," Lopez tells Bustle.
Over half a year after Hillary Clinton’s defeat by Donald Trump and Democrats’ continued losses in Congressional races, the party is struggling to figure out its next steps, and that has caused some of the leadership to reconsider the long-held stance that candidates must support reproductive freedoms, in the hopes of gaining ground in redder states by leaving that out of their platform. In an interview with The Hill last week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said the organization would not withhold financial support from candidates who oppose abortion. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America,” he said. (A spokesperson for the DCCC did not respond to Bustle’s request for comment.)
Luján's comment echoed sentiments expressed earlier this year, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA 12th District) told The Washington Post that there should be no forced party line on the issue, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas Perez came under criticism for stumping this spring for a Nebraska candidate for mayor who had sponsored bills restricting abortion. This shift comes in stark contrast to the platform put forth by the Democratic Party just last summer, in which they stated "unequivocally" their belief that every woman should have access to safe and legal abortion.
As they consider refocusing the values of the party, Democratic leaders are also renewing their focus on economic issues. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called for a $15 minimum wage and fighting monopolies. "Americans believe they’re getting a raw deal from both the economic and political systems in our country. And they are right," Sen. Schumer wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
But, if economics is the issue, abandoning abortion makes little sense. When it comes to economic security for individual women, there is nothing more essential than being able to control one's reproductive options.
When Democrats reassert economic populism, Sen. Sanders, an Independent, is still perhaps the first to come to mind. During the presidential campaign, he told Rolling Stone that to win the election, that message had take precedent. "Once you get off of the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues...there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand," Sen. Sanders told the publication in 2015. But, if economics is the issue, abandoning abortion makes little sense. When it comes to economic security for individual women, there is nothing more essential than being able to control one's reproductive options.
When a woman who wants an abortion is denied one, she is more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who is able to get the health care she needs, according to Sarah Lipton-Lubet, the Vice President for Reproductive Health Programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Access to abortion is fundamental to women’s ability to participate equally in society,” Lipton-Lubet tells Bustle.
Furthermore, according to the 2012 Turnaway Study, women who were turned away from an abortion were three times more likely to fall below the federal poverty line two years later, compared with women who received the care they needed. Their health and wellness was also at stake. Women who were denied an abortion suffered higher rates of chronic pelvic pain and hypertension, according to the study.
“The reality is you can't separate out a pregnancy from economics. Your job needs to pay even more if you're going to support a child. You have to work even more if you're going to support a child."
Restrictions on abortion limit a woman's ability to seek out a job that supports her and her family, diminishing potential contributions to the economy, according to the American Public Health Association. Reproductive health care, including contraception, frees up women to participate in the labor force, according to Analisa Packham, an Assistant Professor of Economics at Miami University. For individuals, "just a fact that we think a woman’s ability to plan her family is going to have economic benefits," Packham, the author of a forthcoming paper on family planning funding, tells Bustle.
Raising a child in the U.S. — providing housing, food, health care, transportation, education and more — costs an estimated $233,610, according to the Department of Agriculture. “The reality is you can't separate out a pregnancy from economics. Your job needs to pay even more if you're going to support a child. You have to work even more if you're going to support a child. You have to think about college education,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7th District) tells Bustle. “It's that the choice that you're making has dramatic consequences for your own economics and your family's economics.”
For Sinreich, having access to abortion literally meant she was able to participate civically and increase her likelihood of a financially stable future. While she was in college, Sinreich joined her town’s municipal transportation board, becoming the chair at 25 years old. “I could have never done that as a single parent,” she says.
Likewise, for Lizz Winstead, the founder of Lady Parts Justice and co-creator and former head writer of The Daily Show, not being able to have an abortion would have cut off her education. “My entire trajectory of my life would've completely changed because I had to work two jobs to stay in college,” she tells Bustle.
“But, when you look to why people choose to have an abortion, it is almost always because they have kids, and they can't afford another one. And they look at their lives and they say, and people say this constantly, 'If I have another kid, or if I have a kid now, it is going to keep me in the economic place that I'm in and not be able to help me get out of poverty,'” Winstead says. This is beyond anecdotal. 40 percent of women who sought an abortion said did so for financial reasons, meanwhile 29 percent of women said they did so because they needed to focus on caring for their other children, according to the Turnaway Study.
In response to the controversy over his initial comments, Rep. Lujan wrote on Facebook that he is "pro-women pro-choice, and fully respect[s] the connection between a woman's health, her economic future and the future of our country." To care about that connection, yet allow anti-choice candidates funding and support, is to undermine the economic freedom which Democrats purport to advocate for.
Though abortion is a constitutional right, low income women and women of color don’t have equal access to the procedure. The Hyde Amendment has banned federal funding for abortions since 1976, with few exceptions, which means that low income women who rely on Medicaid aren’t covered. One in five women of reproductive age are enrolled in Medicaid, a rate that’s higher for Black and Latina women, according to Lopez. A first trimester abortion can run between $500 and $700, according to Yamani Hernandez, the Executive Director of the National Network of Abortion Funds. A report this year from Bankrate found that most Americans don’t even have that much money in their savings accounts. “We do hear about people that have to choose between rent, food, and care for the children that they have, in order to afford their abortions,” Hernandez tells Bustle.
Of course, the debate among Democrats over whether or not to create a litmus test over abortion for the party pales in comparison to President Donald Trump and Republican efforts to walk back access to reproductive health care. The failed bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would have “defunded” Planned Parenthood for a year, stripping nearly 400,000 low income patients of care.
“[Republicans] are hypocrites on so many levels. They oppose abortion and they refuse to back birth control,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President and Chief Experience Officer of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, tells Bustle. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that defunding it would end up costing the government $130 million over a decade. Given that just three Republican senators voted against the bill, it's all the more important that Democrats stand strong on reproductive rights.
States that have the most abortion restrictions actually have the worst health outcomes for women and children, as well as the fewest supportive policies for families.
Never mind Republican efforts, accessing birth control can be a challenge, especially for low income women and working mothers. “Say you work Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and the clinic is closed on Sunday, or you have to take care of your kids...That’s $30 out of pocket a month for pills,” Melissa DeGezelle, a doula and patient advocate who's had three abortions herself, says. “That could very easily be the difference between, as a single mom, feeding my kid or getting gas to pick her up from school.”
Though Republicans who enact state restrictions on abortion often say they’re doing so for women’s safety and health, a report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Ibis Reproductive Health released this week found that the states that have the most abortion restrictions actually have the worst health outcomes for women and children, as well as the fewest supportive policies for families.
The states that have the most abortion restrictions actually have the worst health outcomes for women and children, as well as the fewest supportive policies for families.
In 2016, the Supreme Court shot down a law in Texas that sought to shutter the state’s abortion clinics by creating medically unnecessary restrictions under the guise of protecting women. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that this poses a grave risk to women when “in truth, ‘complications from an abortion are both rare and rarely dangerous.” The confluence of abortion restrictions and the lack of support for pregnant and parenting people "stack the deck" to disempower women, according to Lipton-Lubet.
The lack of supportive policies in the U.S., such as paid family leave, access to prenatal care, and programs that support kids, mean that women can easily become held down in their economic circumstance. Those who are denied an abortion are even less likely to be working a year later, according to Lipton-Lubet. “Ensuring women have the freedom to decide if and when to have families is especially important for economic security, given the lack of policy support for new and expecting parents,” she says.
“The children who can’t be supported who are born to mothers who didn’t plan to be pregnant and can’t really support a family are bound to experience disadvantages.”
These conditions not only have serious consequences for women’s lives and health, but impact generations of their family, according to Ellen Shaffer, a Co-Director at the Center for Policy Analysis. “Children that are planned for or children that are wanted, and children that women can care for, benefit greatly from those conditions,” she tells Bustle. “The children who can’t be supported who are born to mothers who didn’t plan to be pregnant and can’t really support a family are bound to experience disadvantages.”
Though access to reproductive health care can allow women to have both financially fruitful and fulfilling careers, of course, a person shouldn’t have to justify having an abortion for any reason at all, according to Amelia Bonow, the co-founder of #ShoutYourAbortion. “My own experience was just I truly didn’t feel anything but an overwhelming sense of gratitude about the whole situation. There was no decision. I knew whatsoever that I was going to be OK,” she tells Bustle.
Even with abortion in the U.S. at a historic low, according to the Guttmacher Institute, looking ahead to 2018 voters can already see what happens in states where Democrats who oppose abortion have been legislating. In Louisiana, for example, Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards has been a proponent of implementing a minimum wage, yet signed legislation requiring women to wait to have an abortion. “He exemplifies exactly what these candidates that Pelosi, Schumer and others are suggesting is acceptable,” Amy Irvin, the Executive Director of the New Orleans Abortion Fund, says.
“I would really hope that the Democratic Party, the DCCC, whoever is talking about this, continues to make the distinction between people who may not personally make that choice, but are not going to do anything to undermine that constitutional right if they were elected,” Rep. Jayapal says.
While the current political discourse is treating economic issues and reproductive rights as though they’re disconnected, the antidote could be on its way. According Alexandra De Luca, a spokesperson for the PAC Emily’s List, the organization has heard from over 16,000 pro-choice Democratic women who want to run for office in the midterm elections and 2020.
"[Reproductive rights are] like mom and apple pie," says Sinreich, "It's freedom and the American way."