Bringing Low-income Women into the Conversation on Abortion
The “Abortion Access and Public Funding” issue of Conscience had a personal meaning for me (Vol. XXXVI, No. 2). When I was 22 years old, I found myself pregnant and alone in Long Beach, California. I was low income at the time and completing the last credits of my bachelor’s degree. The man involved refused to put a cent towards my abortion, my prenatal care or my potential child’s life. After praying and deliberating, I decided to have an abortion. But then I faced another challenge: How would I pay for the procedure?
The current abortion debate in the US is fixated on the prochoice/prolife binary, with most US politicians preoccupied with the “moral costs” of terminating a pregnancy. Yet for low-income women, the financial costs of abortion are often the most stressful, shameful and spirit-crushing aspects of undergoing the procedure. For nearly 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has barred federal Medicaid funds from covering abortion procedures—a discriminatory provision that has harmed millions of American women. I want to applaud Conscience for bringing us low-income women into the conversation and delving into the economic realities of having an abortion.
As a 22-year-old facing an unintended pregnancy, I did not know the Hyde Amendment existed, nor did I know that California allocated MediCal funds for abortion procedures. In the weeks leading up to my abortion, I counted my laundry quarters and sorted items in my apartment that I would be able to pawn. I also had to fend off a man who was not only adamant about not providing any funding for the procedure, but who was also becoming more aggressive, trying to exert his control over my decision. The staff at Planned Parenthood alerted me to MediCal, and a social worker with California’s Department for Public Social Services guided me through the arduous process of obtaining the emergency funds. I almost had to reschedule my abortion procedure, as I did not know I would be able to fully cover the cost until 24 hours before. It might not have happened without public assistance.
For many American women, abortion is not a right. Medicaid and insurance coverage bans on abortion erase that choice for low-income women; for women who are involved in abusive relationships; for teenage girls and young women who cannot tell their parents and need full confidentiality in their decision. As Catholics, we are called to help—not turn our backs on—those who are most in need. If reproductive justice is social justice, then activists and politicians, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, must also focus on making reproductive healthcare affordable and equally accessible for all American women.
MFA Fiction Candidate
Newark, New Jersey