What does abortion have to do with the minimum wage? Both are in the news, with ongoing fallout from the Planned Parenthood sting videos and attacks on abortion access continuing at the state level, while political candidates are centering wages, equal pay, and other issues of economic security in their campaigns. But these discussions 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.
We know, for instance, that two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and that the low wage floor leaves many below the poverty level. We also know that women 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. An unwanted 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. The IUD, one of the most effective methods of birth control, costs 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.
Last week, members of Progressive Congress, a nonprofit loosely affiliated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus, hosted a groundbreaking summit on the Hill intended to reframe abortion as an issue of economic justice, rather than simply a moral one. Representatives Keith Ellison, who co-chairs the CPC, and Barbara Lee and Jan Schakowsky spoke, as did a number of experts from groups like the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Women’s Law Center. They discussed that 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.
Abortion is “the one issue that comes up in every single election, and [politicians] have been told not to talk about it,” noted Margarida Jorge, the national director of the Women’s Equality Center. On the other hand, Democrats are happy to talk about equal pay and other pocketbook issues. With the pro-choice movement so often playing defense against antichoice 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. Jorge pointed out that the 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.