Poverty and the hopelessness it can bring into people’s lives is a major factor in the abortion rate. In one study by the Guttmacher Institute, women on Medicaid had twice the abortion rate of other women, even in states that fund childbirth but not abortions.
Unmarried American women may have four times the abortion rate of those who are married. This factor can combine with poverty in a vicious circle – the disruptions in life caused by poverty can make stable relationships harder to maintain, and unmarried or divorced women lack the personal support system that can help keep them from poverty and a desperate resort to abortion.
In August 2012, the Guttmacher Institute published a study in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care about the circumstances under which women have abortions. The researchers surveyed 9493 women who had abortions, and found that most had experienced at least one “disruptive life event” in the last year, such as unemployment, divorce or separation from a partner, getting behind on the rent or mortgage, moving two or more times, or having a baby.[viii]
The women in the study who were living in poverty experienced more disruptive life events – and hence, more abortions – than the women who were making greater than poverty incomes. Women living in poverty were also more likely to report having been physically or sexually abused by their partners.
In addition to the quantitative survey, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 49 women. Nearly half of these women said that disruptive events interfered with their ability to use contraception consistently. Women reported losing health insurance and having trouble affording prescription contraception and getting to doctor’s appointments. Consistent use, not simply any use of contraception, is key to preventing unintended pregnancy. Poverty and disruptive life events appeared to make consistent use more difficult.
Intimate partner violence and poverty both make it more difficult for women to avoid unintended pregnancy and to carry to term if they become pregnant.
For pro-life advocates who are working to reduce the demand for abortion, these data suggest two courses of action. The first is working to end poverty and abuse themselves, and ensuring a strong social safety net to buffer against the effects of disruptive life events. Second, it is also important to ensure that women currently experiencing poverty and abuse have the information and health care access they need to prevent unintended pregnancy, as well as social and material support if they do conceive.