The Republican-led House of Representatives continued its 'war on women' last week by passing an abortion bill so strict that the White House referred to it as an “assault on a woman's right to choose,” and which “would unacceptably restrict women’s health and reproductive rights.” The bill would ban abortions taking place 20 weeks after conception. Currently, most states allow abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy.
Fourteen states—Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah—have already passed laws similar to the House bill, and several are currently being challenged in higher courts. Yet this fact hasn’t deterred the House GOP, 9 in 10 of whom are White males, from proposing a sweeping bill to irreversibly limit women’s access to abortions. Showing just how out of touch the party remains with modern science and women’s rights, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Frank of Arizona, infamously said during the debate on the House floor that “incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.” After widespread criticism from House Democrats, the bill’s attempt at a compromise is to provide an exception if a woman is raped and reports it within 48 hours. But considering that only 46% of rapes are actually reported, even this so-called exception is essentially a big old “tough luck” for over half of rape victims!
While the bill has little chance of passing the Senate and becoming law, it reveals in stark detail a continued disconnect between the Republican party and women. As both parties try to tackle a growing list of social issues that appeal to their base - ranging from abortion to immigration to gay marriage - this disconnect becomes particularly concerning. It’s almost certain that this will only be the first in a series of pro-life legislative actions, each more restrictive than the last.
Although placing restrictions on abortions affects all women, young women of color and low-income women would bear the brunt of any bill that restricts access to health services. Consider the following:
• 37% of abortions are obtained by Black women (22% for Latinas, and 34% for white women).
• 42% of women obtaining abortions are poor, living below the federal poverty line.
• Because of restrictions placed on Medicaid to exclude abortion coverage, 25% of low-income women who want to access abortion services cannot immediately receive it. Having to save money to offset the cost of abortions often causes these women to obtain abortion care two to three weeks later in pregnancy than wealthier women.
• These same impoverished and minority women, who are less likely to have easy access to reliable private transportation, must often travel long distances to find a legal abortion provider and receive care. 87% of all U.S. counties have no identifiable abortion provider. In rural areas, the figure rises to 97%.
• 7 in 10 low-income women would have preferred to have their abortions earlier. Unfortunately, legislation requiring waiting periods, invasive “counseling,” and forced ultrasounds mean that poor and working women must borrow money, miss work, arrange childcare and travel long distances for multiple appointments.
A woman's right to make a personal life choice should not be subjected to ideological debates. Not only are abortions safer and less expensive in the first trimester, but placing further restrictions on access would only force many women to seek out dangerous underground procedures - making the chances of another Kermit Gosnell house of horrors more, rather than less, likely.
As the debates on abortion and who will govern women’s reproductive rights rage on, women of color and low-income women have a stake in making sure our voices are heard. We shouldn’t allow a group of old, out-of-touch White men to pass sweeping legislation that restricts access to abortion services without bothering to concern themselves with the impact that unplanned parenthood has on society and that child’s future. After all, these old White men claiming to be so concerned about the welfare of fetuses are the ones who fought tooth and nail for deep cuts to the food stamp program that low-income, working mothers rely on to provide their children with nutritional meals. Funny how the Grand Old Party’s overweening concern with the right to life doesn’t seem to extend to a concern for life after birth and providing basic social services.
France François is the founder of the award-winning Black in Cairo blog. She has an M.A. in International Development and Conflict Resolution. Follow her on Twitter at @FranceF3