The Value of $400

Forty-seven percent of Americans would have trouble paying for a $400 emergency. This new statistic was illuminated recently in an article in the The Atlantic. According to the author, Neal Gabler, the Federal Reserve asked respondents how they’d cover an emergency with a price tag of $400. Almost half said they’d have to do it by borrowing or selling something, or that they wouldn’t be able to cover it at all.

“Who knew?” the author asks. Then he confesses that he did; he is in that 47 percent.

“I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. … I know what it is like to be down to my last $5 — literally — while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them.”

For those of us in the abortion funding community, we hear stories like this every day. For the people who call us, $400 is a serious barrier. It is the cost of many first trimester abortions, the time in which the vast majority of abortions are performed. (Prices vary. Guttmacher estimated that $470 was the average cost in 2009. And abortion costs do not rise that much from year to year, if at all.)

For the people who call our helpline, $400 can be the difference between getting their abortion safely or not. Make no mistake, our patients are resourceful. They are smart and creative and more than willing to do everything they can. But as Gabler’s story illustrates, sometimes everything you do isn’t enough. Sometimes you lose your job, and with it your health care coverage, and it’s after that when you get pregnant. Sometimes you have to get out of a toxic situation — fast. Sometimes more than one emergency hits at the same time, with no regard for the status of your savings account. Sometimes the bottom line of life doesn’t sync with your monthly bank statement.

If 47 percent of the country is living paycheck-to-paycheck, then it’s not just those living below the poverty line who are struggling. It’s not “lazy” people, or a an unlucky few. It’s a lot of us. It’s our neighbors, our family members, and our friends. And anything this prevalent is bound to have multiple factors at play. We’re living in a time of near unprecedented income inequality. The gender pay gap has barely improved in the last decade, and that gender pay gap widens when broken out by race. White women make about 78 cents for every dollar made by a man. For black women, it’s 63 percent. For Latinas, it’s 54.

Embodied in our philosophy is a trust of our patients. We see them as individuals deserving of our respect, who need help and not judgment or calculations that don’t take their lived experience into account. Through our conversations with them, we hear their situations. We spoke with over 3,000 people last year, and each of their stories was unique. They were mothers, students, and professionals, D.C. natives and new to the area, if not the country. They were married, divorced, and single. Some had jobs they loved and some were unemployed. Much like the world that Gabler paints, there isn’t a single template to explain what is going on with so many people. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is as varied as our patients.

In the case of our work, a lot of the stress and scrambling could be avoided by covering abortion care like the normal and necessary aspect of reproductive health that it is. Repealing the Hyde Amendment alone would go a long way toward helping many of our patients. The Hyde Amendment bars Medicaid funding for nearly all abortion services. The only exceptions are for cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the pregnant person is in danger.

Of course, much more than repealing a single provision is needed. It’s going to take a lot of work and it’s not going to happen overnight. Until that time, we’ll be here, working with as many people as we can.

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