‘The Devastating Economic Impacts of an Abortion Ban’ – an important article to read

By Kerry Abel, Abortion Rights Chair

With the fate of Roe v Wade to be ruled on by the US Supreme Court in the coming weeks, the New Yorker has carried an important article that sets out the economic consequences of removing a woman’s right to choose. These are in addition to a host of health, social and political consequences. The article, ‘The Devastating Economic Impacts of an Abortion Ban’, by Sheelah Kolhatkar, explains how an overturning of Roe v Wade would inflict serious economic harm on women. The article should be read here.

In the article Kolhatkar explains that:

‘The legalization of abortion, in the seventies, had dramatic effects on the ages at which and the circumstances under which women became mothers. It reduced the number of teen-age mothers by a third, and that of women who got married as teen-agers by a fifth.’

 ‘…the original Roe decision acknowledged that making people carry and raise unwanted children could “force upon” women “a distressful life and future,” the draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, barely mentioned the substantial ways that the loss of access to safe, legal abortion would hamper the ability of women to participate fully in society.’

Kolhatkar quotes some economists who have clearly explained how the overturning of Roe v Wade would seriously harm women’s education, employment, and earning prospects.

Tiffany Green is an economist and population-health scientist and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Reporting on Green’s views, Kolhatkar states:

‘…that many of those effects would disproportionately fall on those who were already marginalized…A few statistics help clarify how race and class influence who will most be harmed: in 2014, forty-nine per cent of all abortions were obtained by people who were below the federal poverty line. As of 2004, approximately a third were obtained by people who were white, thirty-seven per cent by those who were Black, and twenty-two per cent by Hispanic people. Black women are significantly more likely than white women to experience an unintended pregnancy, owing to disparities in the economy and the health-care system, and other factors; for the same group, childbirth is more dangerous….Green told me. “And the overwhelming thrust of the evidence is that this is going to negatively impact women and other pregnant people’s economic prospects, their mental health, their physical health, and ultimately their lives. The end of Roe v. Wade is likely going to have devastating fallout.”’

In addition Kolhatkar points out:

‘…most people don’t have access to paid family leave: the U.S. is one of the few nations that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to new parents. The cost of child care is prohibitively expensive, averaging more than a thousand dollars a month for infants. Research conducted by economists such as Claudia Goldin, at Harvard, and Francine Blau, at Cornell University, has shown that the gender pay gap begins to widen once women become mothers. The workplace protections that do exist for mothers apply mostly to people with college degrees; at the lower end of the economic spectrum, where hourly workers may be engaged in shift work with unpredictable hours, there are few safeguards in place.’

Progressive economists have been making the case in defence of Roe v Wade. Kolhatkar reports that Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College, last Autumn:

‘…marshalled a hundred and fifty-four economists to file an amicus brief against the abortion ban, in which they outlined decades of research on how unwanted pregnancies can affect women’s education, employment, and earning prospects, and can impact the labor market more broadly.’

There has also been some attempt to put the economic arguments before the Supreme Court. Kolhatkar reports how Julie Rikelman, from the Center for Reproductive Rights explained to the court that:

‘narrowing women’s access to the procedure could disproportionately harm low-income women or those experiencing personal crises. She turned to numbers to bolster her argument. “In fact,” Rikelman said, “the data has been very clear over the last fifty years that abortion has been critical to women’s equal participation in society. It’s been critical to their health, to their lives, their ability to pursue ”’

Unfortunately, at this point, Rikelman was interrupted by the Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

It appears the court is not taking seriously the economic arguments in support of Roe v Wade. The leaked draft opinion, written by Justice Alito, totally ignores the economic effects of an abortion ban could have on women’s lives.

It is vital that the negative economic impact of an abortion ban is more widely understood. The full article by Sheelah Kolhatkar, which should be read here, helps to increase that knowledge.