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#studentviews: What are the economic effects of reversing Roe v. Wade?

The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the ruling that offered constitutional protections on access to abortions will damage the lives of many American women and their families. It will also have far-reaching economic effects.

What could we do with $105 billion? In June 2022, after 50 years of protection, the US Supreme Court overruled the constitutional right to an abortion, established in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. Individual states now have legislative power over the legal boundaries of abortions, 13 of which have already begun implementing restrictive abortion laws.

Over the past 50 years, pro-life and pro-choice debates have drawn on a range of topics from medical severities to religious sanctities. Yet one seemingly crucial subject is excluded from the conversation time and time again – the economy.

In 2021, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that bans on abortion bear an annual cost of $105 billion for local and state economies in the United States. But why?

Abortion bans rob women of their right to choose. Denial of access to such facilities means that women lose control over their families, their careers and their lifestyle choices. Those who face undesired pregnancy without the option of termination are often forced to undertake unplanned parental roles, which takes precedence over their career.

What’s more, the United States is one of the few nations that does not guarantee paid child leave for its citizens, something that is becoming more of an issue with the recent rise in childcare prices. As shows, over half of parents report that they spend more than 20% of their income on childcare, and 31% claim to take on a second job to cover the bill. These women have no choice: they are unwillingly dropping out of their jobs, either by cutting down on working hours or becoming unemployed completely.

When you recognise that before Roe v. Wade was overturned, on average one in four American women would have an abortion at some point in their life, you can comprehend why a drop in labour force participation of this scale is so costly – $105 billion every year.

The expense does not end there. The Centre for American Progress has shown that abortion bans have a non-uniform impact across demographic groups. Women from lower-income households and black women are disproportionately affected by such policies.

According to a 2021 study by Kelly Jones of the impact of abortion access on economic outcomes, availability of abortions results in a 41% increase in college entry rates for women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. Yet when specifically looking at black women, they saw a rise of up to 200%, nearly a fivefold difference.

This can be explained by a greater unmet need for education and contraceptives in black communities, which leads to more unintended pregnancies and therefore higher rates of abortion. Black communities will suffer more than any other now that their right to an abortion is unprotected, a detrimental reality for social biases like income disparities.

Changes in policy with ramifications of this scale worsen social inequalities. Regardless of their accessibility, wealthy individuals will always be able to source abortions. When abortions are not available at someone’s place of residence, women travel across states and countries to have this procedure, something that many cannot afford to do.

Those without the financial means to travel will then either subject themselves to unsafe abortions or sacrifice their careers to carry on with the pregnancy. Now that states have the right to implement restrictive laws, we must consider the division that this will cause between those who can and cannot afford the procedure.

Abortion bans will only exacerbate pre-existing inequalities. They are harmful to disadvantaged groups since they hinder their career prospects so severely in comparison with others.

Not only will the reversing of Roe v. Wade cause immense financial strain on the government, but it will also encourage stunting in the social progression of underprivileged groups – deepening economic disparities.

For wealthier groups who can source abortions out of their own state, restrictive policies are a pain and hugely inconvenient. But for those without that option, they change life trajectories in the most devastating way. That is a blatant form of discrimination.

The Women’s Health Protection Act 2022 is a new bill that specifies that the government may not limit a provider’s ability to carry out abortions before the foetus can survive outside of the uterus (‘foetal viability’). It passed in the House of Representatives in July 2022, just one month after the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

We now need to see support for its progression through the Senate. Policy-makers must consider the economic consequences of the Supreme Court ruling and fight for legislation like this – bills that work to secure the safety and availability of necessary healthcare for all.

Women deserve the same financial freedoms as men – if only because financial equality across the board makes for a richer society.

Author: Olivia Crosby
Editor’s note: This article is from the University of Bristol’s communicating economics class of 2022-23.
Picture by DJMcCoy on iStock
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