By Melissa Torres-Montoya
[Originally published on 1/22/2013 as part of our Still Wading Series]
I was raised in a family environment destined to shape me into a pro-choice woman. Growing up, it was very important to me that I explore different beliefs and come to my own conclusions. In seventh grade, I was assigned the anti-abortion side of a debate. The assignment gave me an opportunity to hone my debate skills and win an argument, but more importantly, my research convinced me of a woman’s right to choose abortion.
Yet, at this early age abortion remained an abstract concept for me. The issue became real for me as an older teen when the topic of women’s rights came up over dinner with one of my close friends—let’s call her Maggie—and our moms. Maggie’s mom shared with us that as a young woman she had ended a pregnancy. She also said that as a young person she had felt that when she was ready and able to take care of a child she would have a baby. I knew Maggie’s mom loved her deeply and that Maggie was well taken care of. I have since met many women who have told me their stories about deciding to have an abortion and it is clear to me that each of them had to make the best decision based on her personal circumstances.
I firmly believe a woman should have the ability to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term, raise the child, choose adoption or end the pregnancy because she is the best person to make this decision since no one else knows her personal situation. If a woman does decide to terminate a pregnancy, it’s also critical that she have the option of abortion services that are both financially and geographically accessible. This includes eliminating financial barriers that may be standing in her way. However, current federal law restricts some women’s ability to have real access to abortion services.
For example, the federal budget includes several unfair limitations on the ability of women who get their health care coverage through the U.S. government to obtain abortion coverage. The federal government withholds abortion coverage for federal employees, women serving in the Armed Service, spouses of those in the military, women in the Peace Corps, women in the District of Columbia, and low-income women qualified and enrolled in Medicaid insurance. What does this mean for millions of women? It means that although abortion is a legal option for a woman to pursue in the United States, actually choosing this option may prove difficult for many women struggling to make ends meet .
Like many medical expenses, abortion care can come with a sizable price tag for women who are forced to pay for this costly procedure on their own. In 2008, the Guttmacher Institute determined that approximately 60% of women paid for an abortion out of pocket, with an average payment in 2009 of $451 for an abortion at 10 weeks of gestation. Given that the average monthly salary of a woman is $1,758 before taxes, many women obtaining an abortion spent well over a quarter of their monthly salary for this procedure. For women making less than the average income and for single women caring for children, the financial barrier is even more significant. Five out of six single-parent households are led by women and single-parent households led by women are more than twice as likely to be in poverty as compared to single parent households led by men. Paying for an abortion can cause immense financial difficulty for a woman juggling basic expenses, and may make the difference between whether she can buy medicine, gas, or food that month.
When a woman cannot afford an abortion, the impact on her and her family can be far reaching. A woman’s decision shouldn’t be made for her by politicians simply because she can’t afford abortion care. Let’s ensure that every woman has coverage for a full range of pregnancy related care, including abortion, whether she is enrolled in government funded or private health insurance. Please reach out to the President and let him know he can help eliminate financial barriers to women’s access to abortion coverage by submitting to Congress a budget that eliminates restrictions to abortion services. Protect women’s health and help women have access to comprehensive reproductive health care services!
Melissa Torres-Montoya currently serves as a Program Coordinator/ LSRJ Reproductive Justice Legal Fellow at the National Women's Health Network. She received her B.A. from the University of California, Davis and earned a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2011. Melissa followed law school with a stint studying public health, and in May 2012 she graduated from John Hopkins with a Masters in Public Health.
This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.