April V. Taylor
Abortion rates have been declining in the United States for the last 25 years and have reached the lowest rate since Roe v. Wade, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control, black women are still disproportionately affected, having abortions at 5 times the rate of white women. While the reasons for the overall decline in abortion rates is widely discussed, few are looking at why black women continue to access abortion rates at such a higher rate than the rest of the population.
Christine Dehlendorf, who is a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, is one of the people choosing to take a closer look. Dehlendorf specializes in reproductive health research, and she believes that the discrepancy between black women’s abortion rates and the rest of the population is a reflection of “broader inequities” that are present in many other areas than just health outcomes. She specifically states, “There are a multitude of reasons, and we don’t fully understand what’s going on. But ultimately I think it’s about structural determinants – economic reasons, issues related to racism, differences in opportunities, differences in social and historical context.”
Dehlendorf believes that economic reasons are one of the largest contributing factors in the abortion racial gap. According to the Pew Research Center, low – income women have higher rates of abortion and unintended pregnancy no matter what their race is. When this is coupled with the fact that the median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households, it is easier to understand that economic status is one of the root causes for black women seeking out abortions at such a higher rate. Economic status has such a profound affect on the abortion rate because poorer women are less likely to have health insurance or consistent access to medical care.
Although economic status is a major contributing factor, black women of all economic statuses have higher rates of abortion according to a report done by the Guttmacher Institute. Dehlendorf believes that this is because studies that control for income still fail to look at the other disadvantages that black women face. She states, “It is important to remember that income is not equal to socioeconomic status – history, culture, education, wealth, family education and so on all contribute to this. So you can’t say that by controlling for income you are taking away the effect of socioeconomic status.” In other words, it is not just income that makes a woman decide to have an abortion; there are many other cultural and sociological factors, some that are tied to racism, discrimination and systemic inequities, that contribute to the decision.
The positive news is that Dehlendorf and other experts believe that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, will help reduce abortion rates by making birth control more widely available to people of all income levels. Despite the lack of research, it is clear that there are cultural and socioeconomic factors outside of income level that cause black women to seek out abortions at five times the rate of white women. Hopefully, there is a solution to reducing this statistic that accounts for all of the contributing factors.