On Monday, CNN Money ran a story describing how a single mother, Safiyyah Cotton, survives making $7.50 an hour in Philadelphia. Spoiler alert: It’s not easy and she’s often left in debt at the end of the month. In order to keep a roof over her head, Ms. Cotton spends most—and sometimes all—of her first paycheck of the month on rent. This leaves little money for all other expenses. Even with SNAP benefits, Ms. Cotton often skips lunch to save money although she always makes sure that her son has enough to eat. Ms. Cotton also doesn’t go to the doctor herself, relying instead on home remedies. She is not always able to pay her child care bills. In fact, her child care costs would be greater than her entire monthly income if she didn’t receive government help.
Ms. Cotton’s story illustrates many of the problems made apparent in poverty data that were released yesterday. In 2014, the poverty rate for women was 14.7 percent compared to 10.9 percent for men. The news is even worse for women who head families with almost 40 percent of them living in poverty. More than half of poor children in the United States lived in female-headed families in 2014.
This is deplorable. Yet, what are politicians talking about—defunding Planned Parenthood and denying women access to an important source of health care. And let’s not forget cutting the very programs that make it possible for women like Ms. Cotton to feed their children, afford child care, and obtain health care.
Reproductive Justice Demands Economic Justice
Reproductive justices strives for a world in which everyone has the “political power and means to make decisions about their bodies, sexuality, health, and family, with dignity and self-determination.” Economic security is a key part of reproductive justice. Unfortunately, yesterday’s numbers highlight how far we are from achieving economic justice. Instead, women like Ms. Cotton continue to live in poverty struggling to care for themselves and their families.
Denying women access to reproductive health care, including abortion, only makes things worse. For example, one study found that one year after being denied or receiving an abortion, 67% of the women who were denied an abortion were below the federal poverty line compared to 56% of women that received an abortion.
It’s time for politicians to get their priorities straight. Rather than trying to deny women access to reproductive health care, politicians should support programs that will eliminate poverty and ensure that everyone has the ability to make the decision about when and whether to have children and to raise the children they do have with dignity and self-determination.