Attacks on Reproductive Rights are Attacks on Young, Impoverished, Single Mothers


Brynne McSorley

Honks of support echoed through Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday, all directed towards a then-burgeoning assembly of protesters gathered in front of the Allegheny County Courthouse. Demonstrations like this are taking place nationwide and come in the wake of a leaked Supreme Court draft that is confirmed to be authentic and stipulates that the court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade: the decision that recognizes and protects the constitutional right to abortion. 

Twenty-three states currently intend to ban or restrict abortion if the dissolution of Roe is finalized. In some cases, these bans will effectively strip women of the right to terminate pregnancies without exception for rape or incest, while harshly criminalizing doctors who perform the procedure and allowing both patients and medical providers to face life in prison. Thirteen states plan to enact “trigger laws” that will put these measures into effect immediately.

Not only is this a direct attack on settled law that leaves many wondering which other landmark cases are at risk of being taken to the chopping block next, but it will also fail to decrease abortion rates. “Whether abortion is legal or whether it’s not, it doesn’t matter. Abortion is healthcare. Regardless of whether abortion is legal, women still need abortion in the same amounts,” said a speaker affiliated with Pittsburgh Socialist Alternative at yesterday’s rally. Instead, it is guaranteed to cause immeasurable harm to a particular subset of American women who are hugely overrepresented in patient demographics as they face the head-spinning choice of whether to carry a pregnancy to term in horrific circumstances or seek unsafe and non-medical abortion alternatives. The speaker went on to emphasize: “What’s clear from reading this: this is an attack on women. This is an attack on all people with uteruses but even more so this is an attack on working-class people. The millionaires in congress—this won’t affect them. They can go wherever they want; they have the money. They can go to California and get an abortion the next day if they find out they’re pregnant. This affects working-class people that simply can’t afford that. Healthcare has been eroded in this country. How is anyone supposed to carry a baby to term when they don’t even have access to the prenatal care that they need to do so? This is putting people’s lives at risk in so many ways.”


The poor and under-resourced women she was referring to make up the majority of abortion patients: Women of young age and low income who already have children and are simultaneously at significantly higher than average rates of intimate partner violence and the highest risk of sexual violence in the United States. For our most vulnerable women, who don’t have the funds or support to travel across state lines for an already time and money-sensitive procedure, to ban abortion in their home state is to deny access entirely. 

According to RAINN, Females ages 16-24 are 3-4 times more likely than women in general to experience, rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. The risk is great still for poor women due to numerous factors including their increased likelihood of living in an overcrowded home and their lower rates of college enrollment which make them far more likely than 18-24-year-old college attendees to experience sexual violence. While we know that it is widely underreported, the average known number of rapes and sexual assaults against American females of childbearing age is approximately 250,000 each year. 

Women in this high-risk age range make up the largest portion of abortion patients in the United States, yet 10 states have passed bans that lack rape or incest exceptions.  Only one made it through higher courts without being blocked: Texas‘s. If Roe is overturned, this nightmare ban will immediately become a reality in the state, making performing an abortion a felony without incest or rape exceptions. 

In a 2004 study of over 1,000 abortion patients conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, the most cited reasons by women seeking an abortion were because they could not afford to care for a baby, and having a child would interfere with their ability to work in order to support their existing children or other dependents. That is because 75% of abortion patients live below the federal poverty line or are classified as low-income  and 60% of abortion patients already have at least one child.  Almost all (85%) are unmarried, and 63% of women who get abortions are 29 years old or younger.  

That makes the vast majority of abortion patients in the United States single, twenty-something, low-income women who already have children and for whom having more would be life-changing and impossible to afford.

This might explain why a majority of over half of abortion patients were actively practicing pregnancy prevention techniques  by utilizing contraception (chiefly condoms and short-acting hormonal methods) the month they became pregnant. It also once again disproves the myth that women frequently and nonchalantly use abortion as birth control. In fact, most women will only have one. According to the New York Times, “Six in 10 women who have an abortion are having one for the first time. Another quarter have had one previous abortion. Less than a fifth have had two or more.” Nearly half of these abortions happen in the first six weeks of pregnancy.

The cost of denying women these simple and necessary medical procedures is often deadly.

The largest study ever done on women’s experiences with abortion and unwanted pregnancy in the United States was conducted by a team of scientists from The University of California, San Francisco and confirms that abortion is a life-saving procedure for many patients. It reads:

“Women denied abortion are, more likely to experience serious complications from the end of pregnancy including eclampsia and death, more likely to stay tethered to abusive partners, more likely to suffer anxiety and loss of self-esteem in the short term after being denied abortion, less likely to have aspirational life plans for the coming year, more likely to experience poor physical health for years after the pregnancy, including chronic pain and gestational hypertension. The study also finds that being denied abortion has serious implications for the children born of unwanted pregnancy, as well as for the existing children in the family.”

Furthermore, they concluded that “being denied an abortion increased the chance that women were living in poverty, were unemployed, had overdue debt, or had experienced bankruptcies or evictions.”