NEW YORK-Days before Linda Marzulla was born, her parents were living in the New York City subways. Her dad, a tattooed and testy boxer, was out of a job and a friend had just kicked them out. He went to the church and prayed for help, the priest helped them find a place, and 16 days later, Marzulla was born. "We were so poor, you know what my toy was?" she says in her bullet-fast New York accent. "A stick-I used to pretend I was a director-and a mirror. I would pretend it was a friend."
Now her parents' black-and-white photos hang in the entryway of Expectant Mother Care, a crisis pregnancy center in Brooklyn. When Marzulla, the director, stands in the lobby and calls to the pregnant moms curled up everywhere, "Where there's a will, there's a way. We know there's help. We're all from the same neighborhoods. We know how to stretch a penny," she knows what she's talking about.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, three-fourths of the women who get abortions say they do so because they cannot afford a child. It's too soon for any hard data on whether the current recession is leading to a jump in abortions, but the Associated Press recently reported anecdotally that abortionists are seeing more women who feel they can't afford to keep their babies.
Pro-lifers have heard this concern for years, but they think that love and care can trump economics.
Take Tawona Huff-25 years old, 26 weeks pregnant, and unemployed since May. When she found she was pregnant, she was living off unemployment and she and her boyfriend (both laid off from a hospital) were still searching for work. After two abortions and a miscarriage she wanted to be a mom, but she also wanted to go back to school one day and finances looked grim. Then she heard her baby's heartbeat. "That was it," she said. His name is Carter.
Huff lives on $258 a week, and she says no one will hire her while she's pregnant. She would rather not go on Medicaid for the first time in her life-they look at her like she's never worked, she says-or depend on her family for help. But she says of her baby, "I love him like he's already there."
The unemployment rate in New York City is 8.1 percent-close to the national average-but other north-eastern pregnancy support centers reported no marked increase in women considering abortions for economic reasons.
Christopher Bell, director of Good Counsel maternity homes, said the numbers have stayed consistent, although the funding flow has slowed. Nicole Moss, program director for the Midtown Pregnancy Support Center, said it has seen an increase in clients, but that may be due to better advertising, not bad times. Sister Magdalene, director of the Visitation Mission for Sisters of Life, said she had seen no increase in economic concern-but it is a refrain she hears every day, whether there's an economic downturn or not. According to the records Moss keeps, the majority of women considering abortion fall into the lower income brackets.
That is why all of these organizations provide material assistance or referrals for everything from strollers to maternity clothes to maternity housing to Medicaid. When it comes to the medical bills, New York provides free prenatal care for women with a yearly income as high as $29,148.
Marzulla talks to babies in the womb as if she has already held them, regaling me with stories of babies who reach up to "hold their mother's hands" when a mom presses her own hand to her belly. She calls the receptionist, who carts a flute and music stand into the ultrasound room to play music for Unique, the baby whose mom is stretched out on the table. Marzulla admonishes Huff to baptize her baby and Huff promises she will, saying, "I want to give God back what He gave me."
"Does the economy affect love?" Marzulla demands. "No! Does love affect the economy? Yes."