Kayla Moye was starting a 90-day sentence in a Cleveland jail when she learned she was pregnant. She was 19 and wanted to have an abortion.
She visited a nurse inside the facility to ask what her options were. “His exact words were ‘that wouldn’t be an option’ for me,” Moye said. “I found out later that [saying] it was totally illegal. By the time she was released she was in her second trimester and decided to carry the pregnancy to term. Her son was born prematurely two months later.
Prior to his incarceration, Moye worked full time at a casino and pursued an undergraduate degree in commerce. “My life was pretty decent,” she said. “I was making enough money for my age and just wanted to finish school, understand my life and my passion and not have to worry about the responsibility of another human being.”
But getting back to life after prison proved difficult. Moye, who returned to work two months after the birth of her son, said she was not entitled to childcare assistance or food stamps. The formula for her son was expensive.
“I had my lights turned off. I had my gas cut off. I went to bed hungry many times, ”she said. She said paying for things like her son’s food and a car seat caused her to fall behind on bills. Her car was repossessed during this time, and she sometimes turned to her parents for help to stay afloat. She fell into a depression.
Moye’s experience reflects a common reality.
According to a study published earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research, women who are denied abortion are more likely to struggle financially than those who undergo the procedure. Researchers have found higher debt, bankruptcy and eviction rates among women who have carried unintended pregnancies to term.
Sarah Miller, an economist at the University of Michigan and lead author of the study, said new mothers can expect a drop in pay after childbirth, and that’s on top of the medical bills and costs of custody of a child. But for those who requested and were denied an abortion, their subsequent financial insecurity reflects a premonitory degree of self-awareness. Miller’s research suggests that people seeking an abortion have a keen sense of their financial situation, the realities of caring for a child, and the aggravating difficulties of both.
Miller and her team analyzed the credit scores of hundreds of women across the United States who had requested abortions; one group obtained abortions and the other was refused due to advanced gestational age. The researchers found that, on average, women who were unable to access an abortion had about $ 1,700 in additional debt; were 81% more likely to have negative public financial records, such as bankruptcies, evictions and tax liens; and were more likely to have bad credit. (In the three years leading up to the unwanted pregnancies, researchers said their credit scores were “almost indistinguishable”.)
Even more strikingly, the financial gaps between the two groups persisted throughout the six-year period studied by Miller and his team. Miller said she expected the gap to narrow after the first year or two. “But it seemed to put these women’s households into a more lingering kind of financial turmoil,” she said.
These findings come as states across the we cancel access to abortion – sometimes under the guise of the coronavirus pandemic – and the United States. The Supreme Court is considering its most high-profile abortion case in decades. Next week, judges are expected to decide whether the state of Louisiana can impose strict regulations on abortion providers, requiring them to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Abortion rights advocates say a ruling in favor of the state would signal states could severely limit individuals’ access to the proceedings.
Although attempts by states to classify abortions as non-essential have been overturned by the courts, thousands of women have been turned away from abortions at the start of the pandemic, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Miller said that if more women are denied abortion, more women are also likely to face economic hardship. “Short-term reductions in access to care could potentially have lingering long-term financial consequences,” she said.
Miller’s research is based on Diversion study, a longitudinal study from the University of San Francisco that examined how access to abortion affects women’s lives. The study, which was recently published in book form, followed 1,000 women across the United States between 2008 and 2010 and interviewed them for five years.
The researchers found that the effects of refusing an abortion for women went beyond financial hardship. Women who completed term were also more likely than their counterparts to have complications during pregnancy and remain with abusive partners.
Diana Greene Foster, principal investigator of the Turnaway study, said two of the study participants actually died of childbirth-related complications, a staggering number, given the most recent statistics place the rate of global American maternal mortality at 17.4 per 100,000 live births.
Foster, a demographer, said she was struck by how close the results were to why women want to have an abortion. Women who said they could not afford a child tended to get poorer; those who worried about raising a child with the man involved tended to see these relationships dissolve; and those who worried about the impact on children they had previously tended to have poorer financial and developmental outcomes for their children.
“The data shows very clearly that people are making thoughtful decisions,” Foster said. “They understand what the impact will be. And they are right.
Moye said she was in the right place – emotionally and financially. At 25, she is engaged and her son, now five, has a two-year-old sister. She works for a dating service and owns a few businesses, including a beauty bar and a tattoo parlor stake. She and her fiance buy a house in a suburb of Cleveland, and she plans to pursue a master’s degree.
“The reason my fiance and I started exploring businesses and going the entrepreneurial path was mainly because we wanted to be able to pay for the children’s college,” she said.
She hopes that they will be able to forge their own path, without constraints, financial or otherwise.
“I think above all else it all comes down to freedom,” she said.