A "Culture of Life" Keeps Women Poor
Is the GOP the party of lifting up the working class, or keeping working-class women broke and vulnerable?
Yesterday, I had an op/ed in the New York Times about how the “pro-life” movement knows as well as the rest of us what actually prevents abortion and yet ignores, or actively opposes, the most effective ways to reduce the abortion rate. Widespread use of contraception (particularly long-acting contraceptives, like IUDs and implants) coupled with comprehensive sexual health education = lower rates of unintended pregnancy = lower rates of abortion. It’s easy math. And yet no major “pro-life” group advocates for full and free access to all modern methods of family planning.
This is an issue of women’s freedoms and our role in society, but it isn’t just an issue of personal autonomy and choice. It’s also an issue of poverty and class control. If poor women used contraception and had abortions at the same rate as more affluent women, we’d see significant reductions in the poverty rate, and we’d see many more women staying on an upwardly mobile trajectory. Instead, a cultural emphasis on abortion as bad and unthinkable, and a conservative cultural hostility to women planning their pregnancies and their lives, keeps women and their children poor.
That’s not an issue feminists address in too much detail, because it’s a sticky one to navigate. Feminists do emphasize all of the ways in which abortion bans and legislation like the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal Medicaid funds from paying for abortions, hurt poor women disproportionately, and that’s absolutely true. What’s less discussed, though, is how a conservative and anti-abortion (and often anti-contraception) culture contributes to the feminization of poverty. There is a huge imbalance in abortion access, yes, with more affluent women in more liberal states having a wider range of options. But there’s a huge imbalance in perception, stigma, and belief as well — in what women and girls even believe are their options. The so-called “culture of life” is actually a culture of misogyny, and it’s one that keeps poor women poor, stuck, and often downwardly mobile.
Here’s what we know about women who have abortions: They are all kinds of women. They are rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal, pro-life and pro-choice. But we also know that there are a few characteristics that most women seeking abortions share. Most are in their 20s, while about a third are over 30. Sixty percent are already mothers. Their most common educational level is “some college,” and many say they are ending their pregnancies so that they can pursue more education, work, and personal stability. Nearly half live below the poverty level, and another quarter are right on the edge. They are more likely to live in blue states than red ones.
But here’s what else we know: More affluent women are not only more likely to use contraception than poorer women, they are also more likely to end unwanted or mistimed pregnancies.