October 2, 2015 — "[W]hen it comes to the complexities that drive economic security around the world, [Pope Francis] seems to get it," but his "compassionate, complex, committed view of economics and wellbeing falls apart when it comes to reproductive health," Atima Omara, vice president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, writes in an American Prospect commentary.
According to Omara, Pope Francis worked in South American communities that "likely saw women struggling to complete their education but unable to do so due to unintended pregnancy, high rates of maternal death, and suffering caused by lack of safe, legal abortion services." However, "despite this real-world experience seeing the brutal impact of economic injustice, including on women, the pope remains steadfast when it comes to the Church's views on reproductive health," she writes.
Omara explains the link between reproductive health and economic justice, noting, "While the right to end a pregnancy has long been framed in the U.S. as one of privacy, personal decision-making, and women's health ... the links between women's economic security and abortion are becoming clear." She writes, "Over 60 percent of women who obtain abortions have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line." She adds, "What's even more striking is data from the Turnaway Study," which finds that "of the women in the study who made it to the clinic, 60 percent lived below 100 percent of the federal poverty line" and about "half ... were qualified and enrolled in public safety net programs."
Omara continues, "If more poor women are seeking abortion, what's driving the unintended pregnancy rate for these same women?" She explains that "using effective contraception consistently is an expensive proposition that goes far beyond paying for the pills or condoms themselves," citing factors -- such as transportation issues, language barriers, lack of insurance and workplace scheduling constraints -- that make "seemingly simple act of getting and staying on birth control ... anything but." She adds, "Globally, these and other barriers mean that over 200 million women would like to avoid a pregnancy but lack access to contraceptive methods."
While "the Church's leaders" have "always opposed abortion and contraception that wasn't the 'rhythm method' ... Pope Francis' re-centering on the poor has made the conflict between these values even more apparent," Omara states. She questions, "How can you seek to uplift the poor while actively opposing the very health care that low-income women around the world demand?" She concludes, "For women and girls around the world, health, justice, and economic freedom require access to affordable, safe, and effective reproductive health care. To divide these issues is to ignore the realities of our lives and daily survival" (Omara, American Prospect, 9/28).