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Overturning Roe will exacerbate inequalities for generations of children

By Sarah Terrell and Diana Fishbein

Opinion contributors - 09/24/22

The post-Roe v. Wade era will reveal two disparate Americas where there is a divide in access to reproductive rights across income brackets — those who can afford to make personal choices about family planning and those who cannot. For those who cannot, forced pregnancies will undoubtedly shape the financial, physical and emotional wellbeing of impoverished mothers, as well as the health and wellbeing of their children and grandchildren.

The median cost of an abortion is $568 in the first trimester, the time period where the vast majority of abortions take place. Given that one third of Americans are unable to afford a $400 unexpected expense, that price is steep for many low-income individuals. Now consider that, to access abortion care, some women now need to pay for transportation to travel out-of-state and possibly overnight accommodations or childcare for existing dependents. Some will need to take unpaid work leave.

These added financial hurdles will be insurmountable for many impoverished women. This is especially concerning when you consider that 75% of women who use abortion services have incomes well below the federal poverty line.

Further, the most common justifications women provide for elective abortions are to finish education, establish or advance a career, improve financial stability and prioritize care for existing dependents. In these circumstances, a forced pregnancy can derail a woman’s ability to gain financial stability and optimally provide for children.

Black women will be disproportionately harmed, as abortion rates for Black women were 3.6 times higher than for White women before the overturn of Roe. Higher abortion rates for Black women are influenced by a complex constellation of factors. Compared to White women, Black women are more often single parents and more likely to experience systemic inequalities, such as economic disadvantage, unequal access to family planning services and distrust of the medical system. These systemic disadvantages persist post-Roe, while access to abortion care disappears in many states. This is alarming because Black women are 2.9 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than White women.

This disparity in abortion care access will also negatively impact the children of women in poverty. Forced pregnancies during times of economic hardship will conceivably coincide with inadequate access to nutritious food and prenatal care, and is likely to intensify a pregnant woman’s anxiety and stress hormone levels. Extensive research has demonstrated that these factors may negatively impact the brain development of a fetus. Moreover, the wellbeing of existing children in the home may suffer as resources are spread thin to make ends meet.

After birth, poverty can shape the biological, cognitive and emotional health of a child. Insufficient access to nutritious food and quality health care can undermine healthy physical development. High stress levels due to conditions associated with poverty — for example, food insecurity or exposure to neighborhood crime and violence — can negatively impact a child’s emotional development and increase risk for mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. Impoverished families also have fewer financial resources than high-income families to provide a range of critical opportunities for their children to grow and thrive.

In sum, these children will likely face substantial disadvantages when striving for upward mobility. They will be less able to escape poverty, and their children as well as subsequent generations of children will be at risk for experiencing the same deficiencies in resources and opportunities.

Many who oppose abortion argue that adoption is a solution for these concerns. However, this is a short-sighted, uninformed argument. First, many impoverished women who are denied legal, affordable access to abortion will (rightfully so) want to raise their own children. But they will be at a forced disadvantage with a scarcity of resources.

Second, our child welfare systems were already over capacity to serve the children needing permanent homes before Roe was overturned. As of 2020, there were 117,470 eligible children waiting to be adopted in the United States. Further, over 23,000 American children turn 18 or “age out of” foster care annually without having found a permanent home. If we were struggling to provide stable homes for the thousands of children in need prior to the overturn of Roe, what will we do when the demand increases due to abortion restrictions and bans? We anticipate an uptick in homelessness, unemployment, mental illness, and other adverse outcomes when more children are caught up in the child welfare system.

Adding insult to injury, states with the most restrictive abortion laws tend to support fewer social programs for young vulnerable families, such as paid maternity leave, financial assistance for needy families, and health care and prevention programs.

It is inhumane for states to impose laws that will exacerbate the gaping divide between income brackets in the U.S., or to undervalue the quality of life of families who are already struggling.

This piece appeared as an op-ed in the New York Daily News on September 24th. It was written by Sarah Terrell and Diana Fishbein. View the article in the New York Daily News:

Sarah Terrell is a doctoral student in human development and family studies at The Pennsylvania State University and a member of the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives.

Diana Fishbein is the president and co-director of the National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives, the director of Translational Neuro-prevention Research in the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and part-time faculty at The Pennsylvania State University.

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