America is facing a diaper crisis, and the anti-abortion movement may not be helping

America is facing a diaper crisis, and the anti-abortion movement may not be helping

Many families across the U.S. lack access to supplies essential to their baby’s well-being, including clothing, food, and diapers.

The coronavirus pandemic has played a heavy role in this crisis, and as households seek help from nonprofit organizations, anti-abortion centers (AACs) may be misrepresenting the extent of their services.

In 2019, Heartbeat International, an AAC giant, claimed to have provided 1.85 million individuals with free baby supplies, including more than 2 million baby clothing outfits, more than 19,000 strollers, and more than 1.2 million packs of diapers. However, data from Equity Forward, an accountability organization that produces investigative research related to gender equity and sexual and reproductive health, found inconsistencies with those numbers.

“Instead of providing direct material support to people, they’re using this money for overhead costs to pay for staff salaries, to engage with SEO marketing professionals, to expand their outreach to promote themselves, and all sorts of things that are not providing services to people in need,” Equity Forward Director Ashley Underwood told Yahoo Finance. “They solely exist to deter people from getting abortion care.”

A display of Pampers diapers are seen on sale in Denver February 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

According to Equity Forward’s findings, Heartbeat International only provided one stroller for 1% of clients, one car seat for 1.6% of clients, and less than one pack of diapers per person.

Heartbeat International did not respond to Yahoo Finance’s request for comment.

Diaper need

Heartbeat International is an interdenominational Christian organization that claims to serve approximately 2,850 pregnancy help centers, maternity homes, and nonprofit adoption agencies in over 65 countries, including 1,722 in the United States. This makes them the world’s largest affiliate network of pregnancy centers.

However, Underwood argued that the organization, in addition to other AACs, is doing more harm than good.

People stand outside the Planned Parenthood Manhattan Health Center in New York City, U.S., August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

People stand outside the Planned Parenthood Manhattan Health Center in New York City, U.S., August 6, 2022. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“Since June when the Dobbs decision was released, we’ve definitely seen an uptick in rhetoric from anti-abortion centers,” Underwood said. “They are in the perfect position to help people, but they’ve existed decades before that decision, and we’ve seen that they don’t use this money towards helping people. So much of the money, specifically the public tax dollars they receive, goes towards promoting their own endeavors; not serving the communities in which they exist.”

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Roughly one-third of U.S. families are unable to afford diapers necessary to keep their babies dry and clean, according to the National Diaper Network, which is part of an ongoing public health issue known as “diaper need.” Oftentimes, diaper need can lead to a variety of issues for both baby and caregiver, affecting not only physical health but also mental and economic health.

“When caregivers don’t have a sufficient amount of diapers to keep a baby clean, dry, and healthy, they often are forced to keep their babies in soiled diapers longer than they should or dump and dry used diapers so that they can be reused,” Moms Helping Moms Founder and Co-Executive Director Bridget Cutler told Yahoo Finance. “As a result, infants and toddlers are at risk of skin infections, open sores, urinary tract infections, and other conditions that may require medical attention.”

Two-year-old Estefania Chacon watches as her mother picks up free diapers provided by the Chelsea Collaborative, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Chelsea, Massachusetts, U.S., November 25, 2020.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Two-year-old Estefania Chacon watches as her mother picks up free diapers provided by the Chelsea Collaborative. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)

What’s more, almost all childcare providers require parents to provide a daily supply of disposable diapers in order to drop their child off each day, Cutler explained. If parents do not provide diapers, they cannot go to work or school. Parents who struggle with diaper need “report missing an average of four days of work or school per month,” according to National Diaper Network CEO Joanne Samuels Goldblum.

Additionally, households that are experiencing diaper need reported higher levels of stress.

“Research has shown that mothers who are unable to provide a sufficient amount of diapers for their child are more likely to suffer from depression,” Cutler said. “Being a parent is hard enough without having to constantly stress about meeting your child’s basic needs.”

‘Funding these propaganda machines’

Currently, government programs that provide assistance to families in need of diapers are severely limited.

Households are restricted from using WIC (the Special Supplemental Foods Program for Women, Infants and Children) or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — both federal programs used to provide nutritious foods to lower-income households — to purchase diapers.

TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is a federal program with benefits that can be used for diaper purchases. However, Cutler said these funds are inadequate because only 23% of families living below the Federal Poverty Level receive cash assistance through TANF.

A separate report from Equity Forward found that at least 10 states diverted or currently divert TANF dollars away from families in need and into Alternatives to Abortion (A2A) programs. These programs are state-funded and created with the intent to reduce abortions and improve pregnancy outcomes.

Fiscal year 2020 program budget for Elizabeth’s New Life Center, a grant recipient in Ohio’s alternative to abortion programming (Source: Equity Forward)

Fiscal year 2020 program budget for Elizabeth’s New Life Center, a grant recipient in Ohio’s alternative to abortion programming (Source: Equity Forward)

Public records from Ohio’s AAC program obtained by Equity Forward revealed that a majority of TANF funds were used by grant recipients for marketing and overhead costs.

In fact, two Ohio programs — a diaper bank and an anti-abortion center — each received $50,000 in federal public dollars. The Columbus Diaper Bank allocated $30,000 toward supplies, while the anti-abortion center, Elizabeth New Life Center, spent just $2,650.

“It’s very disturbing that a pool of funds like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is not going directly towards needy families,” Underwood said. “It’s going towards funding these propaganda machines. That’s the best way to describe these anti-abortion centers.”

Underwood stressed that there needs to be a proper system that supports both parenting and individuals who are currently pregnant.

“Instead of funneling money into these programs that have been more propaganda than services, we really need to be taking a close look in how we can create an infrastructure that supports parenting and supports pregnant people, and supports people to be able to make the reproductive decisions that are best for them,” she said. “We just don’t have that.”

Sandra is an editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @srsalathe

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