Poor Women on the Margins

Every woman knows that the decision of whether or when to become a parent is the most personal and has lifelong gifts and impact. The decision affects her physical health and well-being as well as her family.

As a teenager when Roe v. Wade was decided, the decision was pivotal to giving all women the ability to manage their own health and well-being. For myself, this meant being able to pursue college, plan my family and establish financial independence.

All too often, however, women do not have the means to do the same.

Women seek abortions for complex and varied reasons and economics is a common factor in many of their stories. More than 40 percent of women who have an abortion fall below 100 percent of the federal poverty line. In dollars, they survive on less than $11,000 a year.

The financial ramifications for women who seek, but are ultimately denied an abortion can be crippling. They are three times more likely to live in poverty and more likely to need public assistance as they struggle to provide for loved ones.

To separate women's health from economics is an illusory and false dichotomy. Four decades after Roe v. Wade and hundreds of abortion restrictions later, the most vulnerable of Americans feel the effect of each new impediment to health care.

Hyde restrictions block federal dollars from covering abortion except in the narrowest of cases. Harkening back to 1977, these restrictions stand as some of the most vicious in both intent and effect. In the words of Mr. Hyde:

"I would certainly like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill."

Across major health and economic indicators, low-income women and women of color rank at the bottom of the pack. The recent "Shriver Report" notes that an alarming one in three women live in poverty or on the brink of it.

The breakdown by race and ethnicity is even worse. More than 24 percent of African American and Latina women are poor. Nearly 19 percent of Hmong, Bangladeshi and Tongans also meet this official designation, along with nearly 1 million Asian American women.

Not surprisingly, these populations are most at risk for unintended pregnancy.

African American women have at times had the highest rates among all women. Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women have seen an increase in unintended pregnancy and teen pregnancy over the past decade. The challenges stem from tight finances, being uninsured and not having access to routine, quality health care.

At the same time, new roadblocks to women's health keep mounting.

2011 saw a record-breaking 92 restrictions on abortion become law, followed by 100 more since then. Thirteen states passed unconstitutional bans on abortion. Others enacted unnecessary and cumbersome clinic requirements that forced providers to shutter their doors, leaving hundreds of miles between clinic sites. The totality of which has not only diminished women's access to safe abortion, but contraception and well-women care as well.

Meanwhile, bills like the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act are offered under the guise of protecting civil rights and preventing sex-selective abortion. In reality, they perpetuate anti-immigrant sentiments and subject Asian American women and other women of color to increased scrutiny by their providers.

Hyde restrictions again made their way into this year's federal government spending package. The House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice's inaugural hearing of the year began with H.R. 7, "The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act." Not only would the bill permanently bar federal dollars from paying for abortion care for women on Medicaid, it would interfere with private insurance coverage in an unprecedented way.

While the anti-abortion onslaught has been seemingly endless, lawmakers courageously offer solutions such as the Women's Health Protection Act. The bill makes unconstitutional state laws that target providers, hinder access to abortion and otherwise harm women's health.

America's health care landscape pushes women to the margins.

Budget axes come down hard on health and economic programs that offer women and low-income families a helping hand. The patchwork of state and federal laws undermines women's access to comprehensive reproductive care. And when women cannot get care, they must make heartbreaking sacrifices.

Every time a new impediment pops up in the halls of Congress, state legislatures or courthouses, poor women are left with less ability to make decisions about what is best for themselves and their families.

That is a reality no woman--no matter her income--should face.