Skoog: What better way to perpetuate cycles of poverty than to control a population’s reproduction?

Low-income and communities of color are among the most affected by recent legislation that jeopardizes Reproductive Justice.

by Caroline Skoog

When discussing the proposed restrictions on abortion, “pro-choice” and “abortion rights” provide a limited framework for assessing the matter at large. Abortion accessibility is only a slice of the conversation surrounding reproductive health. Even the Roe v. Wade decision didn’t supply “choice” equally; under the current system of healthcare, “choice” is a reproductive luxury afforded to bodies in specific tax brackets.

Reproductive Justice, a concept created by women of color who recognized the representational insufficiencies of the women’s rights movement, offers a framework that recognizes access to reproductive care. Those in the movement believe that reproductive care is a human right and that certain social, political and economic disparities prevent women from having accessibility to reproductive care. 

In 2016, 75 percent of abortion patients lived below the poverty line, and 59 percent of them were already caring for a child. When restrictive legislation is put in place, which some also refer to as backdoor bans on abortion, the government mandated requirements for healthcare providers who offer abortion services are often times ridiculous. For example, in 9 states there are specific rules surrounding the dimensions for procedure rooms. It demonstrates the line between something being legal versus accessible. These restrictions condemn women and families who are already financially struggling to a lifetime of poverty. 

As federally funded resources narrow, low income communities face tremendous consequences. Through the lens of Reproductive Justice, the pending restrictions on abortion and revisions to Title X are weaponized policies that target communities in poverty. Removing one’s reproductive autonomy and access to sexual education perpetuates cycles of disadvantage.

“Maybe if she can’t get an abortion, she’ll be more responsible about sex.” 

Outside of the religious anti-abortion arguments, pro-abortion reasoning seems to focus on the responsibility of the individual, a ‘pull yourself up by the uterus-straps’ mentality. Of course, this bananas resentment implies governing sex altogether and has no actual logic, but for the sake of argument let’s say state governments are attempting to ‘promote responsibility.’ 

As federal funding to sexual education shifted from evidence-based programs and increased funding to abstinence education (rebranded as Sexual Risk Avoidance) in 2016, I have a hard time believing the government is acting in the youth’s best interest. Each state can choose how much funding they accept or decline for their abstinence-only sexual education programs. For example, if you accept a grant from the Sexual Risk Avoidance program, it is strongly discouraged to teach about condoms or other contraceptives. That leaves gaps in sexual education across the country. 

So, the federal government cut funding for accessible reproductive care and sexual education in states with the highest teen birth rates in the country, the majority of which are in the south. They also significantly reduced access to family planning services under Title X by disqualifying any provider that might refer or recommend abortion to an individual. If the government truly cared about healthy youth sexual activity they would fund comprehensive sexual education that informs teens, rather than strategically withholds information.

The anti-abortion argument also contradicts itself as the states imposing these restrictions have exceptionally high infant mortality rates. Alabama, for example, has had the highest infant mortality rate in the country twice in the past five years. It also has alarmingly high maternal mortality rates that disproportionately affect women of color, low-income, and uninsured women.

Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or birth complications than white women, according to the national partnership for women and families. Uninsured women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or birth complications than insured women. 

This blatant disparity of quality in care foregrounds the mentality of the healthcare system: poor people deserve to die.

How exactly does compromising sexual education, impeding access to contraceptives and overall reproductive care, and removing sanctions that provide essential medical care demonstrate responsibility? 

It doesn’t. It’s reckless and embarrassing.

If these restrictions on abortion go into effect and funds to reproductive care and family planning programs dwindle as planned, there is virtually no infrastructure to prevent and protect low-income communities.