Poverty Should Be Part of the Discussion

There’s been a lot made in the media over the past few months about a “war on women” in relation to the politicization of reproductive healthcare. Many jabs have been thrown in both directions, but what each side seems to be missing is the effect this is having on the actual victims of this “war”— women. By cutting access to reproductive healthcare, we are entering millions of women in North Carolina into a life of poverty.

Poverty is no stranger to the state of North Carolina. It’s grown by 25 percent here since 2007. What’s more, 1 in 5 children in the state live in poverty. Growing up in poverty involves a number of conditions that hurt children’s brain development and overall health, including a lack of nutritious food, exposure to toxins, and inadequately funded schools. Any of these conditions on their own would be unacceptable, but put them all together and you’ve tragically described the life of many young people in North Carolina.

The women of North Carolina need our help now more than ever. There are more women than men living in poverty in North Carolina, and many are mothers. Of impoverished families, 44.2% are headed by females with children, while only 27.2% are headed by males with children. This follows the conventional wisdom that one of the quickest triggers for a life in poverty is an unwanted pregnancy, or kids having kids. Too many people think this is an irremediable problem, but there is a solution. If proper reproductive health care and information were available for the women in North Carolina, especially among single women, poverty could be significantly combated.

Let’s look at the facts. All across the world, developing nations have pointed to a lack of reproductive health care as a significant factor in their inability to combat poverty. The capacity to obtain contraceptives gives a woman the capacity to determine the planning of her family. This is the most substantial part of her finances. If women were given the control over their bodies that they deserve, they wouldn’t be forced to give birth to a child in dangerous economic conditions, all but ensuring a life of poverty for both the mother and the child.

But it’s more than just contraceptives and unwanted pregnancies. Many diseases and cancers that uniquely affect women have virtually no side effects until it’s too late for full treatment. This means unless they are being screened regularly for things like HPV and breast cancer, they could have these diseases and have no idea. And yet, people are campaigning to cut federal funding for places like Planned Parenthood, which gives these exact services for low-income women. Candidates all over the country are making waves by pledging to deny the care that women deserve, with a repeal of the Affordable Care Act top priority. When asked about what to do about the millions of uninsured Americans, many have responded that they get treated in emergency rooms, as if that were a fair and sufficient way for combating the wide array of ailments in the population. The result of repealing this protection would mean the injustice we’ve seen for years: a person’s health being enough to send them into poverty.

One reason people don’t like Planned Parenthood receiving federal funding or the Affordable Care Act is because they think that social insurance programs, like Social Security, food stamps, and unemployment insurance aren’t helping. In fact, these programs are keeping millions out of poverty every single year. Entitlement reform is on everyone’s mind this election, but without these programs the gaping space between the rich and the poor in this country would grow astronomically. The Budget and Tax Center’s analysis of Current Population Survey in 2011 showed a Federal Earned Income Tax Credit keeping 5.7 million people out of poverty, and the food stamps program (SNAP) keeping 3.9 million out of poverty. Surely this is reason enough to make sure these programs remain solvent.

Poverty cannot continue to be the invisible issue in North Carolina. It’s too prevalent, and it’s moving in the wrong direction. Access to reproductive healthcare is imperative for all women because it is one of the most powerful ways to prevent women from entering or staying in poverty. It’s time to take this seriously, and give the women of North Carolina the access to reproductive health they surely deserve.

Kathleen Tresslar is a Communications Intern at the Center for Community Change

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