In the season of Thanksgiving, as the Senate agrees to debate health care reform, I think we should be looking at hunger—and its implications, in regards to this health care debate (fingers crossed, not debacle).
Consider this very sobering news: more Americans are going hungry. An article in the Washington Post this past week reported the numbers, and they are daunting: “The number of Americans who lack dependable access to adequate food shot up last year to 49 million, the largest number since the government has been keeping track, according to a government report released Monday that shows particularly steep increases in food scarcity among families with children.” Yet, according to the National Priorities Project (using 2004 county by county data) half of all low-income people did not receive Food Stamp Program benefits. Their findings: “Counties with lower poverty rates and higher median household incomes had lower percentages of low-income people that were Food Stamp recipients.”
Another cold fact: more children are being submitted to “food insecurity” (which is a terrible phrase, in that it ascribes a kind of wishy-washy sentiment to something hard and real and terrifying; besides, “insecurity” implies its presence is reasonable and that’s plain wrong in a country that does, actually, have enough food to go around). How can it be then, that two of the sticking points in the health care debate are creating a “meaningful public option” (gone is the language of single payer) and whether funds—even private insurance funds—will continue to cover abortion services? I pair these caveats, these contentious dogfights between conservatives and others, since not only will both restrictions directly affect those 49 million people, holding fast to the conservative bottom lines—no public option, or one so weak it’s counter-effective—and taking away coverage for abortion services almost guarantee that more people—well, I mean women, and children—will inevitably join the “49 million insecure” ranks.
Admittedly, I am terrible at math (ask my kids). Having said that, I feel entirely confident about this equation: take away all insurance coverage for abortion services, and you are increasing economic insecurity for many women of childbearing age. Consider this word problem from the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF): “How would you raise $650 by Monday for an abortion that will cost $750 if you need even one more week to get the funds, and $850 the week after that? What could you sacrifice?” Kindly, NNAF answers the question—and in the first answer affirms my assertion—“Women go hungry, sell their possessions, risk eviction and jeopardize their jobs in order to raise the funds; often in the end, they just aren't able to manage it. $650 is a month's rent. $850 is the month's childcare bill.”
Reality is not always lofty, or ideal-driven. The idea that some abstract notion of when life begins should dictate what happens to so many lives (real lives, ones in progress, along with lives that could begin under terribly challenging conditions) is heartbreaking to me. Before I really get angry about this—or move onto the whole notion of equality—I am stopped by feeling horribly sad, because no woman should have to choose rent versus an abortion, food versus an abortion, or be unable to gather enough funds in time to obtain an abortion—if that’s what she deems right for her—only to find herself unable to afford parenthood (which is an expensive endeavor). The math would argue a woman barely able to manage a month’s rent would have a hard time adding the childcare bill to it and a woman struggling to pay rent plus childcare for one child would be completely overstretched to pay for two children’s childcare costs. For unsalaried (hourly wage) workers, one child’s illness could compromise a job; two children’s illnesses (most likely not coinciding but sequential) could cause even greater economic hardship and threaten job security.
These examples are merely off the top of my head. If my reality were to be raising children without any financial cushion, the list of “insecurities” would likely not be limited to job or food. Until our society wants to ensure that no woman faces such terrifying “choices,” I would argue we have no business limiting women’s reproductive freedoms. Put another way: there’s a lot of life, a lot of lives really, that go unconsidered. It is plain unfair—equation does not get solved—to place such hazy ideals (and the power of churches, especially the Catholic Church) above the reality of how implementation affects women’s lives.
The other ideal—competing with that hazy beginning of life one, I guess—is women’s equality. Jeffery Toobin in the New Yorker includes this quote in an essay about why abortion rights are critical to preserve. “Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed not long ago, abortion rights ‘center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.’ Every diminishment of that right diminishes women.” Indeed. I would like one day to be giving thanks for a country that upholds health care, feeds its people (well, healthfully, abundantly), and demonstrates through its actions—not simply choice, reproductive justice—women’s equality as a dearly-held tenet. It won’t be this year, alas, but I am going to keep pushing for that day’s arrival.