Rachel Jones, senior research associate at the Alan Guttmacher Institute, says that new study reflects an often-overlooked reality about abortion. Poor women are much more likely to make that choice when facing an unplanned pregnancy. Among women living at the poverty line, the abortion rate is 44 per 1,000, according to a 2000 study of more than 10,000 women.
Among women with family incomes three times the poverty line, that number drops to 10 per 1,000."In the public debate, there's seldom a human face to abortion," she said. "It's just talked about in terms of rights. ''
Mark Huffman, vice president of education and training for Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee, echoed Jones' comments.
"There is a link between socioeconomic status and abortion because there is a link between socioeconomic status and unintended pregnancy," he said. "What Planned Parenthood has been saying for years is that the best way to reduce the incidence of abortion would be to help low-income women."
Women have abortions for many different reasons, but financial concerns are among the most often cited. It's also quite possible that there is a link between the number of abortions and access to contraception, as low-income women often have difficulty finding affordable reproductive health care. In any case, the goal should not be simply to reduce abortions -- it should be to reduce the number of abortions had by women who feel they have no other option. As the statistics show us, financial security does not end abortion but merely lower its instance by increasing the number of choices available to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Being pro-choice means supporting all reproductive choices, not only abortion. Women also have a right to choose parenting, and it's a right that needs equal protection.
While the right to abortion is clearly under attack and an issue to which we dedicate most of our efforts, the right to parent for low-income women is also often highly restricted:
Wright says states that gave more generous grants to those families had a 20 percent lower rate of abortion.
"This is not a call for more social spending in the aggregate," he said. "It's a call for more targeted assistance. That's a very different framework than saying, just throw more money at the problem."
One initial suggestion Wright has is lifting what's known as the "family cap." As part of the 1990s changes to welfare law, welfare recipients no longer received additional aid for additional children. Welfare critics had claimed that poor women had more children to get more assistance.
Wright said that despite the family cap, poor women had the same number of pregnancies. But without the additional assistance, more women had abortions rather than giving birth. That's not what welfare critics had in mind, he said.
"They had good intentions of helping move families from welfare to work," he said "but they didn't think through the consequences for abortion."
Lifting the family cap would drop abortions by 15 percent, Wright said.
Just as the right to abortion shouldn't rest on one's ability to pay, the right not to have an abortion shouldn't either.
Interestingly, anti-choice groups are apparently "skeptical" of this study and believe it's a political ploy by pro-choice groups. Rather than accept that this is an area where people from the two sides of the debate could meet to reduce abortions and increase women's quality of life, they seem to oppose any proposal that does not include an all out ban on abortion. First they refuse help to support access to birth control, and now they also can't work with us on public assistance for low-income women facing unplanned pregnancies? One would think that if they really wanted to lower the abortion rate, they'd find these numbers compelling and get on board with a plan that we all should be able to agree on -- even if we have different reasons for doing so.