Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

People in poverty will suffer the most if Roe is overturned, Pennsylvania experts say

“It’s a devastating future we’re looking at," one advocate said.

Planned Parenthood, Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Center City Philadelphia, Pa. on Monday, October 11, 2021.
Planned Parenthood, Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Center City Philadelphia, Pa. on Monday, October 11, 2021.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

If Roe v. Wade ends, people in poverty could find themselves in ever-worsening conditions — unable to stabilize their families, destined to augment the miseries and distress that already engulf them, advocates say.

“Ultimately, people’s children will be worse off,” said Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney with the Women’s Law Project, with offices in Center City and Pittsburgh. “It’s a devastating future we’re looking at.”

Frietsche’s view was shared by experts on both poverty and abortion on Tuesday as they absorbed the implications of a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that seems to signal the gutting of the 49-year-old decision that holds that the Constitution protects a person’s right to safe and legal abortion.

Forced to raise children they’re not able to support, low-income people would face loss of income and ultimately food insecurity and the medical problems attendant to a life in poverty, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other stresses, noted Sarah Gutman, a Philadelphia abortion provider.

“Not having control over your own life exacerbates poverty,” she said.

Experts note that people of color are disproportionately affected by the lack of safe and affordable care.

“The vast majority of people who need abortion funding in Philadelphia are Black, brown, and indigenous,” according to Elicia Gonzales, executive director of the Abortion Liberation Fund of Pennsylvania, a Center City organization that uses donations to help fund abortions. “They have to pay for the abortion, as well as child care, and the lost wages of two missed days of work.” Half of U.S. abortion patients have family incomes below the poverty level, according to the American Journal of Public Health.

Throughout the state, nearly half (14,813) of all abortions performed in Pennsylvania were to white individuals. The second-largest group (14,177) was Black patients, according to state health statistics.

The leaked draft also comes at a time when government aid isn’t sufficient to help all Americans in need,according to University of Pennsylvania sociologist Pilar Gonalons-Pons, an expert on families and inequality.

“Having children puts people in this country at risk of falling into poverty due to extremely weak support of children,” she said. “The child tax credit has expired. Child care is often unaffordable. And there’s the lack of paid family leave.”

Changes won’t be seen immediately, especially in Philadelphia, where 37% of the state’s 32,124 abortions were performed in 2020 — the highest number in the commonwealth, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“Pennsylvania will still have access to abortion care,” noted Roxanne Sutocky, a director at the Women’s Centers, an affiliation of five independent abortion providers, with offices in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, and other locations. “But in the absence of constitutional protections, the legal right of abortions will fall back to the state. And this state has been extremely hostile to abortion.”

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states that directly fund the antiabortion movement, some of it with money diverted from cash assistance for people in poverty.

Currently, Republicans in the state legislature are working to create a veto-proof amendment to the state constitution that would “say no to the right to abortion care in Pennsylvania,” said State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D., Montgomery/Delaware).

The commonwealth is also one of 33 states that prevent people who want abortions to access Medicaid to pay for them, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest, says Gonzales.

In Philadelphia, “we’re lucky there are at least six centers that provide abortion care,” said Samantha Pheiffer, an independent reproductive-rights organizer from Fishtown. “But there are usually waits for women, and the farther along their pregnancies go, the more expensive the abortion.”

Those waits may grow longer if Roe v. Wade ends, according to Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates, the agency’s lobbying arm.

Some 26 states have instituted or are contemplating so-called trigger laws that immediately ban or severely curtail abortions in the absence of a federal constitutional right to the procedure. “As a result, Pennsylvania will see an influx of people looking for abortions,” Espinoza said. “And that will cause delays in care.”

People seeking abortions from states such as Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia could be edging out low-income Pennsylvanians for appointments, all of which rely on timely attention, Cappelletti said.

“There simply won’t be enough clinical capacity to serve all these patients,” Frietsche said. “And when you have a new group of people with pregnancy-related complications, where will those hospital beds come from?”

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at