Returning the determination of abortion legality to the states will, without question, harm economically disadvantaged women and further compound health disparities.
Data show that preventable health disparities exist because of economic, environmental or social disadvantages that adversely affect a specific population. Black women, for example, are more likely than white women to die in childbirth because of a whole host of economic and medical disparities, but that gap is smaller in states that have expanded Medicaid.
Outlawing abortion in deeply red states will further perpetuate a two-tiered system in which women have different rights and health benefits depending on where they live. In blue states, low-income women will have access to health care through Medicaid, including abortion if they need it. And in some red states, low-income women won’t have access to health coverage or abortion.
This will harm everyone — leading to poorer health outcomes and more poverty. States that are likely to outlaw abortion are the same states that are less likely to give families the health care, educational opportunities, or financial support that could help lift people out of poverty. As a result, children born into families that would have preferred an abortion will be more likely to live in poverty than equivalent families in blue states.
People with means will be able to travel to blue states to get an abortion if necessary. But the women without resources will be left to have unwanted children or children with chromosomal abnormalities and be forced to put their own health at risk in some cases.
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Women in the U.S. will have fewer rights than women in the deeply Catholic countries of Argentina and Ireland. In the 1950s and 60s, poor, unwed mothers in Ireland were often sent away to Catholic convents, where their babies were essentially sold to rich Americans. This is the world the U.S. is harkening back to by outlawing abortion. The idea that adoption alone can solve the issue, as Justice Amy Coney Barrett suggested, is naïve. Women should not be forced to put their bodies through nine months of pregnancy and childbirth — which can be life-threatening — in the service of others who may want the child.
If the goal is to reduce the number of elective abortions, we have more effective ways to do it than banning all abortions. Data show that providing free birth control to women greatly reduces unplanned pregnancies and reduces abortion rates 62%-78%.
The U.S. has the highest uninsured rate and the worst maternal mortality among major industrialized countries. Carrying a pregnancy and having a baby is not a health-neutral event for the mother. By outlawing abortion and forcing women to carrying unwanted pregnancies, the government is saying that the life of the unborn — that may or may not survive pregnancy — is more important than the living, breathing person carrying it.
Some abortions will always be necessary. Birth control isn’t 100% effective and unexpected medical issues can always arise that necessitate a woman to have the freedom to choose what she wants to do. Abortion is a vital part of comprehensive health care that reduces health disparities and improves health outcomes.
Increasingly, health outcomes are determined by policies set at the state level. Policies around Medicaid expansion, tobacco, the environment and labor issues are all correlated with health outcomes. Letting abortion be decided by the states will further enhance health disparities and leave poor women in red states worse off.
Step back and see the hypocrisy. The so-called “small government, pro-life” party wants to regulate what books children read, what bathrooms people use and what medical procedures women can have. Instead of “protecting the unborn,” they are forcing them into a life where their rights and interests are only protected until they are born.
Kane is the director of health policy for the Progressive Policy Institute.