Skip to main content

Reform the Safety Net to Counter the Economic Challenges Facing Women Considering Abortion

February 28, 2024

Chairman Whitehouse, Ranking Member Grassley, and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Leslie Ford and I am an Adjunct Fellow in the Center for Opportunity and Social Mobility at the American Enterprise Institute. My research focuses on vulnerable families in our safety net and pathways out of poverty to opportunity.  

I want to make three points about vulnerable mothers experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.  First, when we asked these women about the challenges they face, they tell us that their concerns are relational and financial.  They fear raising their child alone, without the father of their child or extended community to support them as they care for their child. Those challenges are real and we should treat them seriously. Second, many of these women do face economic uncertainty. Many will enter a new, complex world of government support. We can better support these mothers. There is a robust federal and state safety net in place for low-income mothers, and states can and are using their authority within these programs to ensure new mothers can access programs. Still, reforms are needed at the federal level to reduce marriage penalties and help these women find a path back to work and self-sufficiency. Third, as Congress contemplates the options available to vulnerable mothers, it’s vital to incorporate non-governmental supports, including both the biological father and vital community supports which surround scared and lonely women with the friendship, guidance, and resources necessary to brave motherhood.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that many women considering abortion face significant challenges. But research suggesting that abortion results in better outcomes for women is highly misleading. Studies such as the Turnaway Study collect data on women and analyze differences in outcomes by abortion status. It is scientifically impossible to isolate the effects of an abortion on outcomes for these women. The methods these studies use can only point to correlations, which could be caused by any number of things unrelated to abortion. 

Nonetheless, these studies can be informative by describing the circumstances that women may face. Nearly nine in ten women who choose abortion are unmarried.[1] Over half of women who choose abortion are in their twenties and another eight percent are in their teens.[2] The Turnaway Study also reported that the most common reason women seek abortion is the daunting prospect of economic hardship.[3] Another national survey of post-abortive women revealed that the majority of women experienced pressure to abort from other people in their lives.[4] The challenges that mothers experiencing unplanned pregnancies face are very real. That doesn’t mean that ending the life of her unborn child through abortion is the right answer, and a mother should never be pressured to believe that abortion is her only choice. 

Second, the U.S. safety net robustly supports vulnerable low-income mothers. They have access to food assistance, supplemental food assistance for babies, cash assistance, health insurance, and for some, housing assistance and childcare. Historically, the U.S. has focused on single-parent families because economic insecurity hits families with single parents more severely than two-parent families.

[1] Kortsmit K, Nguyen AT, Mandel MG, et al. Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2020. MMWR Surveill Summ 2022;71(No. SS-10):1–27. DOI: 

[2] Kortsmit K, Nguyen AT, Mandel MG, et al. Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2020. MMWR Surveill Summ 2022;71(No. SS-10):1–27. DOI:

[3] Biggs, M.A., Gould, H. & Foster, D.G. Understanding why women seek abortions in the US. BMC Women’s Health 13, 29 (2013).  

[4] Reardon D C, Longbons T (January 31, 2023) Effects of Pressure to Abort on Women’s Emotional Responses and Mental Health. Cureus 15(1): e34456.