Does less money mean more abortions?

The Associated Press reports the recession may be causing an increase in pregnancy termination, and the anti-choice media pounces

Published March 26, 2009 1:18PM (EDT)

Yesterday, anti-choice publications were abuzz following an Associated Press article reporting that the recession may be causing an increase in abortions. Here is how the Catholic News Agency spins it:

Responding to reports that more financially troubled women are seeking abortions, pro-life leaders have criticized the 'pseudo-compassion' which presents abortion as an answer to personal economic turmoil. Emphasizing that abortion signals that women’s needs are not being met, they called for more help for pregnant mothers, pregnancy centers and fathers.

If there's one thing that pro- and anti-choice factions can agree on, it's that pregnant women and their families need more public support. And no one can deny that it's sad to see a woman abort a pregnancy she had planned but now can't afford, as one (and only one) woman in the AP story did. But, unsurprisingly, the situation seems a bit more complicated than anti-choice ideologues are willing to admit.

For one thing, the AP bases its argument for the upswing in abortions on two pieces of evidence: statistics from a few Planned Parenthood clinics and increase in requests for money to pay for abortions from the National Network of Abortion Funds (N.N.A.F.). There is still no national data to confirm the trend. And while it stands to reason that many of the women contacting the N.N.A.F. need the funds for economic crisis-related reasons, that doesn't mean they would have carried their pregnancies to term if they had more money. Perhaps they would have simply paid for their abortions out of pocket. Sure enough, 23-year-old Lalita Peterson, who accepted financial aid for her recent abortion, was terminating an unplanned pregnancy caused by contraceptive failure.

Though anti-choice publications paint such aid as callous "pseudo-compassion," the article points to the importance of providing funds to women who are struggling to pay for abortions:

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said her organization's helpline is receiving many calls from women who postponed an abortion while trying to raise money to pay for it. Such delays often mean riskier abortions at even higher cost — the price can double in the second trimester.

If national statistics do, finally, prove that abortion is on the rise, one cause could be an increase in unwanted pregnancies spurred by the high cost of contraceptives. "Jenifer Vick of Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa said there has been a sharp rise in the number of women who need help paying for birth control because they or their husbands have lost their jobs and their health insurance," the AP notes. As Amy White, Director of Marketing and Communications for Planned Parenthood of Western New York told a local news outlet, women who can no longer afford hormonal birth control may "rely on non prescription based forms of birth control" that are cheaper but more fallible.

Of course, if the problem is that more unwanted pregnancies are leading to an increase in recession-era abortions, it seems obvious that the solution should involve more funding to boost access to contraceptives. And that's the good news. Family planning may have been booted out of the stimulus package. But now, according to Lori Lamerand of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan,"We're seeing a receptivity among our legislators to hear about prevention policies. Folks who wouldn't have opened the doors to a Planned Parenthood representative are now willing to talk to us."

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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