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Options for Poor Women on the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade
Erica Barnett, 29 Jan 08


As pro-choice activists celebrate the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court ruling guaranteed women the constitutional right to choose abortion, abortion itself is harder than ever to obtain. As of 2000, 87 percent of all counties in the US have no abortion clinics, and 97 percent of rural counties lack abortion services. As a result, one in four women have to travel more than 50 miles to visit an abortion clinic. Restrictive laws that require women to go through waiting periods and listen to anti-abortion "counseling" before they can get an abortion frequently turn the whole thing into a two-day process many women cannot afford. A lack of access to abortion services is suspected to be one of the reasons the US abortion rate just fell to its lowest level since 1974, the year the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade. Women (and girls; the teen birth rate spiked last year for the first time in decades), meanwhile, are having more babies than ever, thanks, experts say, to "a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty."

It's a fact in America that the very women who are most likely to seek abortions--the poor--are also the ones least able to afford abortion services. (They're also likely to live far from abortion clinics.) According to one recent study, a key reason women seek abortions is "concern for their current and future children." Nearly two-thirds of women who have abortions already have children; among women with children, the most commonly cited reason for having an abortion was that they were "already stretched thin." Two thirds of the women who gave that answer were below the poverty line.

The solution to this awful situation will have to come from both government and private organizations. On the government side, one positive--and increasingly likely--step would be reversing the Hyde Amendment, which bars the Medicaid program from funding abortions for low-income women. Over the years, the amendment, which dates from 1976, has included exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the life or physical health of the woman; the current version does not include the physical health exemption. States are allowed to provide their own funds to pay for poor women's abortions, but only a handful do so; elsewhere, poor women must scrape together funds that would otherwise have paid for food, clothing, or rent. All three serious contenders for the Democratic Party nomination for president support overturning Hyde. With the potential for a Democratic president and Congress next year, Hyde could soon be history.

Not all poor women who seek abortions would benefit directly or immediately if Hyde were overturned, of course. Since the 1980s, a growing number of nonprofit abortion providers and women's health funds have emerged to fill the care and funding gap. There are so many abortion funds, in fact, that they've organized as the National Network of Abortion Funds, providing access to monetary and other assistance in 42 of the 50 states.

The Chicago Abortion Fund is one of the oldest and largest such funds. Last year, the fund gave out grants totaling more than $50,000 to 159 women, and is planning to distribute $63,000 in 2008. The South Dakota Women's Health Fund provides funds to help pay for abortions, as well as transportation, housing, and child care. South Dakota has the lowest wages in the nation. The state has just one abortion provider, in Sioux Falls, who is open one day a week. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and many other states have similar programs.

As long as abortion remains legal, it will be available to upper- and middle-income women. Programs like abortion funds and changes in federal law will ensure that low-income women have access to the same services wealthy women do.

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May I ask, what does this post have to do with "WORLD CHANGING: Tools, Models, and Ideas for Building a Bright Green Future"?

The World Changing Manifesto says "Every link we post is informed by technology." I'm having trouble finding the "technology" in this post.

The WC Manifesto says "we also need to know how best to collaborate, how to build coalitions and movements, how to grow communities, how to make our businesses live up to their highest potential and how to make the promise of democracy into a reality."

Some would say that promoting one side of our nation's most emotionally charged social issue does not foster a spirit of collaboration among communities. Rather, it would seem to sharply polarize one community against another.

In WC's Politics Menu, I share your calls to hope, change, accountability, and a better future by the protection of democracy.

In the Community Menu, I resonate with WC's priorities in "educating our kids, caring for the ill, helping people." I absolutely support WC's focus on "extreme poverty, oppression, environmental injustice, failed educational systems, and diseases like HIV/AIDS."

I advocate WC's call for "Communities of all kinds to work together, thinking about the problems they face in a holistic way, and working to strengthen the fabric that binds us together."

As a financial and vision supporter of World Changing, I challenge you to live up to these standards - teaching, reaching, and challenging the widest audience possible, while rejecting impulsive political posturing which can dismiss, exclude, and deeply segregate your audience.

The Manifesto concludes, "this is a conversation, not a sermon." Consider that.

Posted by: John L on 29 Jan 08

I am from South Dakota, one of the states mentioned in this article. About two years ago, our legislature tried to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict abortions in ALL cases--disregarding exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother's life. We at the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families, alongside many other organizations, fought from the petition up to get this ill-concieved piece of legislature out of our constitution. However, regarding the comment above, I can say with full resolution that this is far, far more than a political or religious argument. This is about the assertions of women as human beings to make a choice regarding their own reproductive rights. This does indeed affect entire communities, as well as the entire nation. The fight for our rights at a most basic level is based on a free and equal principle, not a religious statement or political bias. If the commentator does indeed support WC's call to inform and educate about poverty and oppression, then they should realize that this article confronts those issues matter-of-factly. Perhaps the issue itself does polarize communities with the charged emotion that so often accompanies i. However, I can affirm from personal experience that regardless of the emotional response, it is an issue facing all communities, and the address of such an issue forces those communities to think about things like poverty, family, human rights, and how the government itself affectsw our daily lives. I fully support any and all discourse regarding this issue, as it is a world changing matter, and the change threatens women's rights every day.

Posted by: Mallory on 29 Jan 08

Mallory... World Changing often addresses issues of (as you say) "poverty, family, human rights, and how the government itself affects our daily lives." We all want to see this continue.

My concern is that, when "human rights" become rigidly and inexorably tied to one side of the abortion issue (as you and Ms. Barnett imply), World Changing endangers their hard-won and generous embrace of broadly-represented communities.

Perhaps WC (Alex, etc.) could clarify their thoughts with respect to abortion. A neutral organizational position seems far healthier for what I perceive to be WC's long-term vision and dreams.

Posted by: John L on 29 Jan 08

I support Worldchanging's position. Many progressive stances, including those against poverty or global warming, could be cited as too one-sided. In this case, while many people's opposition to abortion may be based on emotion or religion, there are objective public health consequences to the lack of access to abortion and contraceptive services for poor women in this country. This is in addition to the profound civil rights consequences of an abortion ban, as Mallory describes above. Erica Barnett cites studies and sources which run counter to stereotypical wisdom and they should be examined by everyone.

Posted by: Meredith on 30 Jan 08

I have to see John's point actually, this just seems like the same old US abortion debate reheated for another outing.

A google maps overlay which annotated with family planning clinics ... pro-life campaigners using shareholder activism to attack medical supply companies for their carbon footprint ... connections between radical environmentalist, radical pro-lifer and radical insurgent groups tactics ... that would have been a new take on the topic, while being just as dutifully progresso-controversial.

Posted by: Adam Burke on 30 Jan 08

Merideth, some would say that the ultimate progressive position is to deeply honor all life. Honest observers of the abortion issues admit that neither side has a slam dunk on moral clarity.

Adam, good thoughts.

Posted by: John L on 30 Jan 08

Just to add a little twist to this conversation, I agree with John L. about ONLY ONE thing and that is the progressive position would be to deeply honor all life.

Yet I must bring up biological issues. Erica mentioned in her article that limited resources to care for an additional child is a very common reason for low-income women to get an abortion. With my background in ecology I want to purpose that we all examine other species and how they deal with population control and what some might term "unwanted" children.

First, with the issue of population control we are the dominant predator and there is no shortage of prey as we hold it captive thus the idea of carrying capacity is thrown all out of whack which is what normally helps keep systems in check.

Second, look at species that actually have too many offspring to support, often these offspring are either killed intentionally (American Coots for example drown any "extra" offspring that would be a burden on resources) or these offspring are abandoned or left unfed eventually resulting in death (very common with birds) or the mother miscarries if she does not have enough resources herself.

My point is that "abortion" in a sense is occurring in the natural world all around us. Although we like to believe that we are better than these "animals" it is true that we too are animals. When a woman chooses to get an abortion because of already stretched resources she is doing something that is common in nature. These women are in fact honoring life, the lives of their already living children. Abortion is not an easy choice for anyone so the fact that women are going through with it to better care for others is a testament to the sacredness of life.

That being said I must mention that this was a wonder article Erica! I found that if people actually read the article closely there is only one sentence that betrays Erica's stance as pro-choice and that is "The solution to this awful situation will have to come from both government and private organizations" Other than that Erica is simply stating facts about abortion, the demographics of women who often receive them, access to these services, etc.; no opinions.

Posted by: Deanna on 30 Jan 08

Thank you, Deanna, for such a well-reasoned expansion on this topic. Precisely because of situations that you describe, my point to John is that to simply say "all life is sacred, therefore all abortion is bad" is simplistic. Every situation in which a woman considers abortion an option is most likely one which involves harsh trade-offs and moral ambiguities, where the best answer is less likely to be visible to a disconnected third party than to those personally involved. Imposing a decision from the outside on people in these circumstances seems to be the least effective, or honest, way to honor 'all' life, precisely because of the competing moral objectives often involved.

Posted by: Meredith on 31 Jan 08

Thanks everyone. You make important, moral, impassioned arguments. Equally impassioned and deeply moral views can be made from other perspectives. I think you would be surprised by my own opinions on abortion, but they are (alas) unimportant here.

WC is one of the best-positioned platforms I’ve seen for gathering a broad consensus on key global issues that impact our collective lives. It’s a dream I share with WC to foster a spirit of emergent collaboration, to build and sustain broad community consensus and action, to help our businesses give back to the global community, and to make the promises of democracy into a reality. With this in mind, I fail to see how drawing an organizational line in the sand on the abortion issue will assist WC in achieving these much broader goals and dreams.

In browsing the World Changing book, I find no abortion platform, thought I see that womens' issues are covered in depth, including pre-natal and infant care. Similarly, nothing on WC web pages hints at an abortion position, pro or con. This is why Erica’s post surprised me – it’s not in character with the WC I’ve come to know and support.

I checked with some of the other progressive / humanitarian / environmental organizations we support, including Greenpeace, Doctors Without Borders, Worldwatch, FOTE, and Mercy Corps.

Doctors Without Borders holds no official position on the abortion issue. DWB’s president, Dr. Jean-Herve Bradol, understands the tension between political action and humanitarian action. He summarizes, “how can we maintain legitimacy if we are not neutral?”

Worldwatch, a forward agent on issues related to environmental, social, and economic trends, holds no position on abortion.

FOTE, with over 2 million members (and the famous rallying cry “Mobilize / Resist / Change”), promotes solutions that will “help to create sustainable and socially just societies.” FOTE holds no organizational position on abortion.

Mercy Corps focuses on agriculture, AIDS, nutrition, peace, and specifically on woman’s issues - but takes no organizational / political position on abortion.

These organizations model some of the world’s finest progressive / compassionate thinking. WC can benefit from their experience and wisdom here.

Deanna notes that Erica gave only one abortion "opinion" in the article. I agree, and it's the line that mostly prompted my concern, though the masthead title and photo "speak a thousand words" as well. Plainly, the appearance and tone of this article more than tacitly paints WC with a very clear position. I don’t believe WC wants to take such a deeply polarizing stance, but I’ve yet to see any clarification from Alex.

Posted by: John L on 31 Jan 08



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