I consider myself lucky to live in Maryland, and even luckier to be pregnant in this great state. Maryland provides excellent services to pregnant women, which I have fully taken advantage of. Because of my income level, I have been able to receive free health and dental care, as well as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) nutritional support, and meetings with both a nurse and a county worker to make sure I am getting all the support I need to have a healthy pregnancy. All of this, especially the medical care, has been a great financial help to me and my family. Although I never considered abortion, state supports have helped me stress less about the financial strains that come with pregnancy and birth. I have wondered if programs like the one in my state could help women choose not to have an abortion.
Low-income women make up a disproportionate share of those who have abortions. Economic hardship is ranks among the reasons women most frequently give for having an abortion. In this time of division, common ground for pro-life and pro-choice politicians could be increased welfare for pregnant women that would in turn decrease the number of abortions.
In the 1990s, welfare reforms caused concerns that women would be pressured into financially-motivated abortions. These reforms tightened access to cash assistance with limits, work requirements, etc. They also enforced a “family cap” so that families can not get any furtherassistance if they have additional children. Since welfare reform, the abortion rate for low-income women has risen, while abortion rates for wealthier women have decreased. Scholars say the “reforms threatened poor women’s right to bear children”.
In fact, a 2006 study found that welfare reform made abortion more acceptable. Part of welfare reform’s goal was to increase employment. Welfare recipients who were employed were more likely to turn to abortion than their unemployed counterparts. Another study showed that pregnant adolescents were more likely not to have an abortion if their parents received Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These young women were also less likely to have abortions if they received Medicaid.
A 2011 study assessed whether TANF predicts a decrease in abortion rates among disadvantaged women. The report from this study explained that contemporary theory identifies three main determinants on childbearing decisions: income, the cost of childbearing, and the desirability of child bearing. Assistance programs can have effects on all of these factors; it can provide and subsidize goods and services such as cash, food, health care, housing, and child care. The availability of assistance can also send a message about the value of children. This study also pointed out that one needs to look at the relative costs of abortion vs. childbirth. Some women will have childbearing costs so much higher than what they can afford that they will feel forced into having an abortion.
So, did the welfare reforms of the 1990s cause an increase in abortion? The study found that TANF recipients were less likely to have abortions when they lived in states where the public opinion leaned pro-life. In states where the public opinion leaned pro-choice, TANF recipients were more likely to have an abortion. The type of welfare and messages women receive are very important. Women in pro-choice states get more mixed messages. Women will be less likely to have an abortion if they have support from their partners, parents, peers, and the welfare office. Employees of the welfare office can have a particular influence on abortion decisions. One study across four states showed that the topic of pregnancy comes up at 12-15% of states’ welfare offices. In each of the four states, TANF caseworkers asked recipients if they were pregnant. The caseworkers then sometimes made comments that were encouraging or discouraging to pregnancy.
Another theory behind abortion decisions is Public Policy Feedback Theory. Public Policy Feedback Theory suggests that people are influenced by the design, content, and implementation of public policy. This can shape how people both see morality and themselves. It can also influence the way people vote, which can in turn influence public policy. Therefore, if public policy creates positive, pro-life legislation and messages, people will be more likely to be pro-life and create even more pro-life legislation by electing more pro-life politicians into office.
So, the answer is social supports, public policy, and creating a culture of life. Unfortunately, Maryland has one of the most permissive abortion laws in the nation, so, while I benefit from and fully support our welfare for pregnant women, it may not make that much of a difference in abortion choices. This makes me wonder if the welfare programs even in more progressive states aren’t doing enough. WIC, for example, has many restrictions on what you can and cannot buy. While I understand the concept that the government shouldn’t be subsidizing unhealthy foods, it gets a bit tiring making sure you are getting the exact right brand of the exact right bread that has exactly no added sugar. Or making sure you are remembering shredded cheese instead of sliced cheese. Or checking to see exactly what flavors of cereal are allowed, and if this has changed since last month. I can’t imagine doing this with small children in tow (though I suppose I will learn soon)! My husband and I also had trouble finding a pediatrician that would accept Medicaid, and still haven’t been able to find one that will meet us at the hospital after the baby is born. The number Medicaid gave me for getting a breast pump through insurance has been disconnected. So although I appreciate all the benefits I have gotten from my state, I definitely see flaws in the system. I can’t imagine trying to navigate this system if I was single, already had children, was working multiple jobs, had English as my second language, or any combination of these factors that women are facing every day.
At any rate, welfare for pregnant women cannot hurt, and in many cases saves lives. This assistance also gives relief to women struggling to make ends meet. Less stress means a healthier pregnancy. I don’t have all the answers to public policy and what will help women the most. I do know, however, how supports for pregnant women have helped me, and could continue to create a consistent culture of life.