Demonstrators opposed to Texas' new abortion ban rally in Bloomington, Indiana on October 2, 2021 as part of a wave of national protests. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Attack on Abortion Rights Is Assault on Women's Economic Security: Experts

"This is class war from the Supreme Court, overturning what has been a fundamental right for over half a century. Roe made it possible for women to join the workforce and help narrow the wage gap."

As the U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority appears poised to overturn landmark decisions protecting reproductive rights, researchers are sounding the alarm about how looming abortion bans threaten to undo decades of economic gains made by women, with especially devastating consequences for those who are low-income workers.

"Reproductive and gender justice are central to bodily autonomy and economic security."

Justice Samuel Alito's draft majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization indicates that the high court has voted 5-4 to strike down Roe v. Wade and its companion, Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Unless this ruling is dramatically altered before it is officially issued, abortion could be outlawed in up to 26 states as soon as next month, and Republicans have vowed to enact a federal six-week ban if they retake Congress and the White House.

"The court's decision is not yet final, but the draft majority opinion leaked Monday makes clear that a majority of the court has little regard for long-standing Supreme Court precedent or the decades of economic research finding that abortion and other reproductive healthcare remain essential for gender and economic equality," Shawn Fremstad, senior policy fellow at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said Tuesday in a statement.

"Reproductive and gender justice are central to bodily autonomy and economic security," Fremstad continued. "In Casey, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the 'ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.'"

"Economic research conducted over the three decades since Casey has only strengthened the evidence for this conclusion," said Fremstad.

As Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy and chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, and her colleague, acting policy director Maryam Janani-Flores, noted in a recent literature review, "Research on the early broad-based dissemination of the birth control pill and on restrictions for abortion services... finds that autonomy over family planning choices is directly linked to a woman's job opportunities and financial security."

Moreover, Fremstad added, "an amicus brief in Dobbs signed by 154 distinguished economists and researchers detailed the 'substantial body of well-developed and credible research' finding that abortion legalization and access in the United States has increased women's educational attainment and job opportunities, and had other positive effects on women's lives."

Caitlin Knowles Myers, a professor of economics at Middlebury College who was a signatory to the amicus brief, which she wrote about in The Washington Post, toldMarketplace on Tuesday that "when abortion access is limited and travel distances to providers increase--as they will for a lot of American women in a post-Dobbs world if Roe is overturned--we know that a substantial number of women can't get there and give birth as a result."

"Motherhood is the single largest explanatory factor for gender gaps in labor market outcomes," she added. "Men and women's earnings actually trend fairly similarly, up until the point that they become parents, and then not much happens for men, and women's earnings really fall off a cliff and decline by about a third and don't recover in their working lifetimes."

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on Wednesday stressed that the GOP's war on abortion will hit poor Americans the hardest.

"Let's be clear," Lee tweeted. "Wealthy people will always be able to travel for abortion care--including Republicans. Abortion restrictions directly attack low-income people who won't be able to afford control over their own bodies."

In the brief they filed with the Supreme Court, the economists wrote that "although women experience unintended pregnancies and seek abortions at varying stages of life, one common thread is that many of these women already face difficult financial circumstances."

As MLivereported Wednesday:

About half the women who seek abortions are poor and three-quarters are considered low-income, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health. Research also shows legalizing abortion reduces the number of children living in poverty and single-parent households.

"For people who have unwanted pregnancies, they have worse economic outcomes," said Joelle Abramowitz from the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. "And we can think about if someone has a worse economic situation and now they have a child, that child is also going to experience that worse economic situation as well."

There are roughly 36 million women living in the 26 states that are certain or likely to ban or severely restrict abortion if Roe is overturned.

"For someone in a state where it's not legal, they would have to travel to a different state potentially to go seek an abortion," Abramowitz said. "And that would be costly for people to do, both in terms of getting there, but also taking time off work or getting childcare."

"You're removing women from the labor market, and forcing women to raise children who do not have enough resources to provide housing and food."

Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, told Bloomberg that Alito's ruling--co-signed by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett--would force some women to carry pregnancies to term against their will, while others would turn to more dangerous options to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

"No decision of a court can stop abortion," she said. "Period."

Meanwhile, those who are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are more likely to endure a lifetime of poverty, according to Diana Foster, director of research at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a program within the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

Foster led the Turnaway Study, the largest and most comprehensive investigation to date of the long-term health and financial impacts associated with obtaining or being denied an abortion.

Cutting off access to safe abortions "is not good for the economy," she told Bloomberg. "You're removing women from the labor market, and forcing women to raise children who do not have enough resources to provide housing and food."

About 1.8 million women have already been pushed out of the U.S. labor force during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates that existing abortion restrictions cost state economies a combined $105 billion per year by slashing the size of the workforce and the amount of disposable income.

"For people who are unable to get their abortion because the Supreme Court just lets states ban abortions," Foster toldScientific American, "we're going to see worse physical health, greater economic hardship, lower achievement of aspirational plans, kids raised in more precarious economic circumstances, and people's lives upended."

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