Abortion trends: more linked to poverty as states enact greater restrictions

by on September 15, 2010  •  In Race, Reproductive rights

Three recent reports read together drive home the point that abortion is becoming more and more a poverty issue, and choice advocates are at the same time losing ground in state legislatures around the country.

According to a Guttmacher Institute study, the concentration of abortion among poor women is not only intense, but also rising sharply. The relative abortion rate for poor women in 2008 (the most recent data available) was more than twice that for all women, and more than five times that for women at 200% or more of the federal poverty level. About 42% of women having abortions 2008 were poor, compared to 27% in 2000. By contrast, the rates for low-income (100-199% of FPL) and better off women (>200% of the FPL) decreased during that time. Among poor women, Black and Hispanic women were overrepresented.

On the legislative side, the Center for Reproductive Rights reports that "2010 has been one of the most challenging state legislative sessions for women's access to abortion in many years." Favorite anti-choice initiatives have included bans on insurance coverage for abortion and mandates that women seeking abortion must be exposed to ultrasound images of the fetus. Guttmacher also issued an analysis of state legislation as of midyear 2010, and reported that there are 49 new restrictive state laws.

Add to this the current frenzy about "anchor babies" in the Latino community. As ColorLines notes, there is a long disturbing history of paranoid delusions about allegedly excessive fertility (read sexuality) in people of color communities. University of Arizona Women's Studies Professor Nicole Guidotti-Hernández places the "anchor babies" issue as the latest episode in that history:

These ideas about Latina women’s bodies and hyper-reproduction are not new… [Such fears have been] localized in the figure of what [historian Ellen] Gutíerrez has called “the hyper-fertile baby machine.”

Beneath all this is an undercurrent of legal and political dehumanization of women of color. And one historically effective strategy for diminishing a liberty right for everyone is just that kind of racialization. If the Supreme Court continues to chip away at the woman's right, this will be part of the context and part of a new enabling discourse — that "good" (white, middle class) women are less concerned now about abortion.


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