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Attacks on abortion are attacks on women of color, poor and working women

Reproductive health outcomes reflect inequality

January 18, 2013
March to defend women's rights, August 26, 2012

As attacks on women’s rights continue at the state and federal level, the Guttmacher Institute released a set of infographics intended to spread the facts about abortion in the United States. The year 2011 saw more restrictions on abortion than ever before, and 2012 had the second-highest number. January 22 marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, and women’s constitutionally-protected right to abortion is still under attack.

The evidence makes it clear: the ongoing attacks on abortion rights are overwhelmingly attacks on poor and working women, particularly women of color. Women below the federal “poverty line” or those considered “economically disadvantaged” make up an increasing majority of women who have abortions.

The reality of unequal access to education, jobs and healthcare faced by women in the U.S., particularly women of color, is reflected by the differences in reproductive health outcomes. Poor women have higher unintended pregnancy rates, abortion rates and unplanned birth rates than do wealthy women. Women of color face higher rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned births and abortion than white women. Cuts to publicly funded reproductive health services make contraception and family planning counseling more difficult to access for low-income and uninsured women.

Most women are forced to pay out-of-pocket for an abortion. Saving enough money to pay for the procedure can lead to delays. One graphic notes that 7 in 10 low-income women would have preferred to have their abortions earlier. Delays lead to even higher costs for women who cannot immediately afford an abortion, and increased restrictions and obstacles when seeking the procedure.

While still hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade and strip women of the existing legal right to abortion, anti-woman legislators are trying to make safe, legal abortions impossible to obtain. Eighty-seven percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider and 35 percent of women live in those counties. Economic, legislative and geographic barriers to access hit poor and working women hardest. Legislation requiring waiting periods, unnecessary and inaccurate “counseling” and forced ultrasounds mean poor and working women must borrow money, miss work, arrange childcare and travel long distances for multiple appointments.

When politicians attack the right to abortion, they are taking aim at poor and working women who are already facing cuts to public and social services and obstacles to education, employment and housing. Cloaking attacks on abortion rights in “morality” demonizes women of color and poor women and avoids the real issues of poverty and inequality underlying the abortion “debate.”

Every woman has the right to safe, legal abortion on demand. The Roe decision came as a result of a powerful women’s movement that changed the political climate and forced the courts to recognize women’s right to control over our reproductive health. The right to abortion is under continuous attack and we must defend it as we defend against all attacks on our hard-won rights.