Why Losing Your Housing Is One of the Greatest Threats to Reproductive Health

How can a person parent their children in a safe and healthy environment if they don’t have stable housing?

[Protesters marching for housing justice]
The rent crisis is bearing down on a lot of people, and it will lead to a sharp rise in homelessness when evictions begin again. Robyn Beck/Getty Images

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The three core principles of reproductive justice are simple: People have the right to have a child. People have a right not to have a child. And people have a right to parent their children in safe and healthy environments.

But how can a person parent their children in a safe and healthy environment if they don’t have stable housing?

And how can a person who finds themselves pregnant think about carrying that pregnancy to term if they are already housing insecure and likely to find themselves homeless or plunged into poverty with the added expense of a new baby?

And when there’s a pandemic and public health officials say the best way to avoid getting sick is to shelter at home, how can people do that if they have nowhere to shelter?

These questions have become more critical as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on.

When the pandemic started and unemployment rates began to skyrocket, cities and counties issued moratoria on eviction proceedings as a temporary measure of relief. At the time, housing justice activists argued it wasn’t enough. Who could possibly afford to pay thousands of dollars in back rent while unemployed, even if they were fortunate enough to be collecting unemployment benefits in a timely manner? Advocates and some lawmakers immediately began to call for rent cancellation. Those calls have reached a fever pitch, particularly with August rents due soon, a pandemic that shows no sign of slowing down, and unemployment claims on the rise again for the first time since March, according to the New York Times.

And thus far, the only city to even come close to taking the step housing justice activists say is necessary—canceling rent—is Ithaca, New York, which passed a resolution in June. That means the rent crisis is bearing down on a lot of people, and it will lead to a sharp rise in homelessness when evictions begin again.

In 30 states, eviction proceedings have already begun, according to CNBC, and Black and brown people, unsurprisingly, are expected to be hit the hardest. In addition, the federal moratorium on evictions, which protected renters living in homes with federally backed mortgages, expires Friday. According to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, mass evictions are on the horizon: As many as 23 million renters could be evicted by the end of September, creating a housing crisis that will dwarf the 2008 crisis.

But what does that mean for reproductive health care? For people who find themselves pregnant and don’t want to be, housing insecurity might mean the difference between paying for an abortion and paying for rent.

For people with children, it means huddling with them in a shelter, which studies show are spectacularly bad places for children’s development. For example, when Dominique Walker moved her family into a vacant home in West Oakland, California, her two children began to thrive. Walker, a co-founder of Moms 4 Housing, told Rewire.News about the developmental milestones her kids experienced when they were no longer shuttling between hotels and shelters. She also told Vogue:

Being homeless affects your brain development and your physical and mental health. For my son, he wasn’t walking. When we moved into the home on Magnolia Street, he took his first steps and he said his first words. I think we take having space for granted—when you’re homeless, or when you’re housing insecure, your children don’t even have space to be able to crawl and develop and walk.” 

Housing is a human right. Abortion is a human right. And while anti-choice forces are never going to care about making abortion widely available, they should certainly care about making housing widely available—especially considering the findings of a recent study out of University of California, San Francisco. Researchers there found that 19 percent of abortions at one clinic were among people experiencing housing instability or homelessness. That’s nearly 1 in 5! And, according to the study, those patients had a higher likelihood of experiencing abortion complications than people with stable housing. That’s because people experiencing housing insecurity are likely to arrive at a clinic later in the pregnancy, leading to a higher rate of complications.

This housing crisis didn’t begin with the coronavirus pandemic. But the pandemic has offered an opportunity to discuss the fact that many people spend at least half of their income on housing that can be taken away from them at practically a moment’s notice. Now is the time to develop workable solutions, so no one experiences housing insecurity and no parents find themselves raising their children in shelters because of circumstances beyond their control.

We are in the midst of a global crisis threatening the housing security of millions of people across this country. Unscrupulous landlords are taking advantage of the situation to make unreasonable—and, in some cases, illegal—demands of their more vulnerable tenants. Millions of families are on the verge of being uprooted through no fault of their own.

If it wasn’t clear before the COVID-19 pandemic, it should be clear now: Housing is a reproductive justice issue.