I haven’t been reading a lot of articles about the Roe v. Wade anniversary today. What is anyone going to say that I haven’t read a thousand times before? But I follow Ezra Klein on Twitter, and I’m a sucker for Wonkblog’s “in charts” posts, so I did read “CHARTS: How Roe v. Wade changed abortion rights.” I want to call attention to this point:
5. Abortion has become increasingly concentrated among low-income, minority women. Over the past four decades, the demographics of abortion have shifted significantly. In 1973, white women accounted for over three-quarters of all abortions. Now, that number hovers just below 60 percent. The economic status of abortion patients has changed too, shifting more towards lower income women.
While it’s a little hard to say because methods of recording race and ethnicity on the census have changed over time, the fact that a greater percentage of abortion seekers are nonwhite women seems to roughly parallel the shift in the general population. The economic shift, though, can’t be explained that way.
Women in better economic conditions are more likely to be able to afford effective contraception and the doctor’s visits necessary to obtain it. They are more likely to have regular work schedules and reliable transportation so that they can get to those doctor’s visits and to the pharmacy for refills. They are more likely to have health insurance. They are more likely to have jobs that offer sick leave and maternal leave. They are more likely to be able to afford child care. They are less likely to suffer “disruptive life events” and have more options for leaving abusive partners. They have, in short, more tools and social support to prevent unintended pregnancy and to carry their children to term.
The abortion rate among poor women in the U.S. rose 18% between 2000 and 2008. The overall rate is falling, though, and the rate among women over 200% of the poverty line is dropping even faster. How can we replicate that success for poorer women? How can we ensure that they have the same tools, the same social support?
I’m 40. I certainly hope to be around for another 40 years. I don’t know what the legal status of abortion will be then, but I do know that legal or illegal, there can be many fewer abortions. We can empower women to choose whether and with whom they have sex. We can fight rape and intimate partner violence. We can ensure that all couples have access to affordable, effective family planning and the knowledge they need to use it. We can make quality health care and child care available to all. We can make adoption a better option for those who choose it. We can demand schools that are friendly to parents, and workplaces that acknowledge that employees aren’t just units of production but human beings with a life outside of work. We can argue that all human beings should be embraced as part of the human family, and that we are all better off in a society that rejects violence as a method of solving social problems. We have a lot of work to do, but women and our children are worth it.