Health

Women denied abortions live in financial distress years later, study finds

The financial cards are stacked against women who want but are denied an abortion, as they and their children are more likely to spend years living in poverty than those able to end their pregnancies, a new study suggests. Those compelled to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are far more likely to experience eviction, bankruptcy and be mired in debt, according to the findings released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research. 

In looking at a decade of credit data for women who sought abortions at 30 health providers in 21 states, the latest findings build upon a study released last year that found denied abortions quadrupled the odds of a new mother and her child living in poverty. The new analysis compared changes over time in credit report outcomes for three years before and up to five years after the intended abortion. 

“We find that being denied an abortion has large and persistent effects on financial distress that are sustained for five years following the intended abortion,” wrote the report’s authors, Sarah Miller of the University of Michigan, Laura Wheery of the University of California at Los Angeles and Diana Foster of of the University of California at San Francisco. “Unpaid debts that are more than 30 days past due more than double in size, and the number of public records, which include negative events such as evictions and bankruptcies, increases substantially.” 

An inability to afford raising a child was the biggest reason given by women seeking abortions, and for those denied the procedure, public-assistance programs largely failed to compensate for the costs of having a baby and keeping the family out of poverty, the researchers noted.

Together, the studies found that carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term increased by 78% the amount of debt 30 days or more past due and increased negative public records like evictions and bankruptcies by 81%. Women refused abortions were nearly four times as likely to live below the federal poverty line four years later as those who had abortions, according to the research, and three-quarters reported not being able to cover basic expenses, such as housing, transportation and food, five years later. Almost two-third, or 63%, already had one child. 

Supreme Court to hear pivotal abortion case in March

The economic picture illustrated in the research is particularly pertinent in that the decision to end a pregnancy is increasingly being challenged in the U.S., with at least nine states passing abortion bans in the last year, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Should the U.S. Supreme Court limit or overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion rights would be protected in less than half of U.S. states and in none of its territories, the center noted. 

A federal appeals court in December upheld a lower court’s decision striking down Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The judge cited Supreme Court decisions dating back nearly five decades to the Roe v. Wade decision re-affirming a woman’s right to end a pregnancy before viability, or when the fetus can survive for a sustained time outside the womb.

The Supreme Court in March is hearing its first challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling in January 1973 that legalized abortion in the U.S., since Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the high court in October 2018.

“Given that the current trend has been for state laws to lower gestational limits, with recent efforts to ban abortions as early as six weeks or even through the entire pregnancy, it seems likely that the number of women being denied a wanted abortion in the U.S. will only continue to grow over time,” the study’s authors concluded. 


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