Restrictions on Later Abortions Hurt People of Color the Most

Those in power rarely acknowledge the struggles of everyday people, especially those with marginalized identities. The conversations around later abortion are no exception.

[Photo: Young woman of color patient sits in a doctor's office as she listens to her doctor speak.]
Low-income people who use Medicaid must find their own funding for their abortion care, while already struggling to make ends meet. Shutterstock

Recent discourse surrounding later abortions—long used as political fodder—has been even more extreme than usual.

After the passage of historic legislation expanding access to later abortion in New York and the proposal of a bill to do so in Virginia, President Donald Trump tweeted that Democrats had “become the Party of late-term abortion.” Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, wrote an article titled “Life Is Under Attack” in the National Review. Among among other sensationalized references to infanticide, the World Trade Center attacks, and North Korea, Pence claimed the legislation in New York and Virginia was the “last gasp of a dying movement.” Trump mentioned the issue in his State of the Union speech Tuesday; analysts and activists also widely believe it will be a major focal point of the 2020 presidential race.

Abortion has been a point of political discussions—ones often rife with fearmongering and scientific inaccuracy—in the United States since before the Roe v. Wade ruling. But arguments surrounding it have frequently failed to mention the disproportionate impact of abortion restrictions on people of color and people with lower incomes.

Overall, people of color seek abortion at higher rates than white people. And logistical barriers often prevent those who are already underserved from obtaining the care they need. Due to the Hyde Amendment, a yearly rider on the Congressional appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, federal money cannot be used for abortion care, except for a few narrow exceptions. As a result, people with low incomes who use Medicaid must find their own funding for their care, while already possibly struggling to make ends meet. People of color also use Medicaid at higher rates than white people. Significant time can pass between deciding to obtain an abortion and acquiring the necessary funding through personal networks or through abortion funds.

In addition to securing funding for the actual procedure, patients must also coordinate the logistics and costs of traveling for care, complying with any applicable waiting periods (such as those in question in Virginia) or parental involvement requirements, and securing time off from work and child care. People of color and people with low incomes already face greater obstacles to reliable, affordable child care. They also face wage disparities and are disproportionately affected by parental involvement laws. While many people who seek abortions have to coordinate these aspects of their lives given these restrictions, people of color and people with low incomes often face greater obstacles and repercussions in doing so.

These barriers build on each other, and each building block weighs heavier on people of color and people with low incomes. As the clock ticks on the pregnancy, the patient may have to travel even farther to find a provider who offers later abortions. These obstacles exponentially grow at every turn.

In light of these many unjust hurdles, one of the most telling points of data is that people who obtain second-trimester abortions largely report a desire to obtain their abortion earlier. Although the data shows confidence in the ultimate decision to obtain a later abortion, regardless of the reason, the reality remains that no one wants to be pushed into this seemingly never-ending maze of obstacles created by misguided policies that disproportionately affect certain people.

Those in power rarely acknowledge the struggles of everyday people, especially those with marginalized identities, when discussing policies that will drastically affect their lives. This distance—the gap between what pundits and politicians are saying and the real experiences and pain of those who are affected—is part of what continues to silence folks with politicized identities.

The recent conversation around later abortions has somewhat shifted the spotlight to people who have had them. This small shift is vital, but few of these mainstream testimonials have focused on people who are not cis, straight, non-disabled white women. In this manner, our society further silences people of color, folks struggling to make ends meet, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and many others who do not fit the idea of who is “deserving” of our attention, understanding, and empathy.

Although it can be difficult to center a wide array of personal stories, especially on a topic as ripe for debate as later abortion, there are many advocates who see the importance of doing just that. For example, We Testify challenges simplistic narratives by lifting up the stories of people who have received abortion care. Recently, it highlighted storytellers who have received later abortions, saying, “They should be the ones we listen to in this conversation about healthcare access.”

It’s a simple request we nearly always fail to embrace. But only when those closest to the struggle are closest to the power will we begin to achieve justice.