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The Nation spotlights summit drawing connections between repro health care access, women's economic security

May 5, 2016 — Conversations about abortion rights and economic security "are mostly happening separately, overlooking the ways in which access to reproductive healthcare is inextricably tied up in a woman's ability to support herself and her family financially," columnist Zoë Carpenter writes for The Nation.

Carpenter notes that "two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and that the low wage floor leaves many below the poverty level." According to Carpenter, "[W]omen have a greater chance of escaping poverty, or avoiding it in the first place, if they're able to control when and if to have children."

She explains, "An [unintended] pregnancy can cause a woman to abandon her education or a career; an unaffordable abortion can force her to rely on the predatory services of payday lenders, entrapping her in a debt cycle. Yet it's poor women who have the hardest time accessing family planning services -- because they don't have access to a clinic, because they're uninsured, or because their insurance doesn't cover the service they need and they can't afford it otherwise," For example, Carpenter notes that an intrauterine device, "one of the most effective methods of birth control," can "cos[t] nearly a full-month's salary for a woman working full-time at minimum wage, while fewer than a third of low-income women of reproductive age have access to federally funded family planning services."

Carpenter spotlights a "groundbreaking" summit hosted by the Progressive Congress, which aimed "to reframe abortion as an issue of economic justice." The summit featured comments from Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)," as well as "experts from groups like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Women's Law Center." According to Carpenter, the speakers "discussed [the] various ways in which reproductive health care plays a 'critical role in the economic opportunity available to women,' as Ellison put it, and also strategies for incorporating access to that care into a broader agenda for women's financial security."

Carpenter quotes Margarida Jorge, national director of the Women's Equality Center, who noted that abortion "'comes up in every single election, and (politicians) have been told not to talk about it.'" Carpenter writes, "With the pro-choice movement so often playing defense against anti-choice legislation at the state and federal level, the economic security framing is intended to help catalyze an offensive switch, to arm pro-choice candidates with positive messaging, and to help build diverse coalitions." According to Carpenter, Jorge explains that "groups that organize the most women in the United States are not specifically 'women's organizations' -- they're labor unions, religious congregations, and civic-engagement groups."

The summit also included discussion of efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits "anyone ... who uses federally funded insurance" from receiving coverage for most abortion care, Carpenter writes. According to Carpenter, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) spoke at the summit about how politicians used to consider Hyde "politically toxic," but how now, a bill (HR 2972) sponsored by Lee to repeal the amendment has more than 100 House co-sponsors and support from both Democratic presidential candidates. Carpenter also quotes Schakowsky, another one of the bill's sponsors, who at the summit thanked abortion-rights advocacy groups for inspiring her to take a stand on Hyde. Carpenter noted that two of those advocacy groups -- Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equality (URGE) and All*Above All -- just this month launched a campaign on several college campuses that seeks to "'proclaim abortion access as a public good' and raise support for overturning Hyde."

The speakers also "spoke of the need to broaden the conversation to people who might not go to bat for abortion access but would support efforts to expand comprehensive sex education, for example, or affordable childcare," Carpenter writes. For example, Kierra Johnson, executive director of URGE, noted, "'When we think about Medicaid, the only battle isn't around abortion access.'" Carpenter writes that Medicaid "doesn't always cover the costs of an additional child," which "leav[e]s people with an [unintended] pregnancy unable to afford either option."

Carpenter quotes Jorge, who, pointing to the slate of abortion restrictions proposed by abortion-rights opponents, said, "'We need to be talking at least as much as the other side.'" Carpenter concludes, "We, meaning not just the pro-choice movement but all of the politicians, activists, and voters who care about lifting women out of poverty and making sure they're financially stable" (Carpenter, The Nation, 5/2).