Forty-one years ago Roe v. Wade made clear that women have a fundamental right to choose when and whether to have children. But, today, as some states restrict abortion, many women find themselves unable to exercise this fundamental right. Women of color and low-income women, who have never had equal access to abortion, bear the brunt of these restrictions. Seventy-percent of low income women who obtained an abortion report that they would have preferred to have the abortion earlier. Waiting periods and required ultrasounds force low-income women to take additional time off of work and find child care and transportation. For many women, these can be insurmountable obstacles. One study found that after Texas enacted its waiting period and ultrasound requirements, women had to wait an average of 3.7 days between their initial visit and the abortion. The wait times were primarily caused by scheduling difficulties. Women traveled an average of 84 miles, round-trip and incurred an additional $146 in travel expenses, child care costs and lost wages. Dr. Willie Parker, who has traveled from Chicago to Jackson, Mississippi twice a month to work at the state’s sole abortion clinic recently told Salon, “The women who are disproportionately affected by these cumbersome laws are poor women of color . . . There is virtually no financial support because of the Hyde Amendment. Women who are on Medicaid or public assistance cannot use that money for their care.”
The Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid from funding abortions except in the narrow cases where a woman is a survivor of rape or incest or when her life is endangered. As a result, women who rely on Medicaid face additional obstacles in obtaining and paying for an abortion. These restrictions are particularly damaging to Native-American women, many of whom receive their health care through Indian Health Services (IHS), which must comply with the requirements of the Hyde Amendment. Many IHS facilities though refuse to provide any abortions, regardless of whether they would be permitted under the narrow exceptions.
Although low-income women and women of color are disproportionately affected by abortion restrictions, all women suffer when restrictions are placed on their ability to access basic reproductive health care. Eighty-seven percent of American counties do not have an abortion provider and as new regulations force abortion providers to close, fewer and fewer women will be able to access abortion without traveling long distances. This is unacceptable. On this anniversary of Roe we must renew our commitment to ensuring that all women are able to choose whether and when they will have children.