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Sign reads "We Won't Go Back," a reference to abortion rights

An abortion rights demonstrator raises a sign in the air during a protest of the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. The Court's decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health case overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case, removing a federal right to an abortion. (Photo: Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

Concerned About the Economy? Then Vote for Candidates Who Support Abortion Rights

Women's reproductive rights are critical to the economy. And if we don't connect that dot, we will continue to lose on both issues.

Trudy Bayer

The Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision ending nearly 50 years of established abortion rights, ignited a burst of anger and widespread support for Democratic candidates who made abortion a centerpiece of their mid-term campaigns.  But recently, as alarm about inflation and the economy has escalated, abortion rights have become a less pressing concern to voters, as if access to abortion and the economy were not intimately connected. In fact, access to abortion is as much of a "kitchen-table" issue as the price of groceries or gasoline. And denying women this access has profound immediate and long-term economic consequences. 

Unfortunately, Democrats have failed to situate abortion as a pivotal economic issue, distorting the true picture and weakening their mid-term support. This needs to be corrected.

If you're agonizing over the loss of abortion rights, consider that it may be the clout of 85 million poor and low-wealth voters who decide them, especially in swing states where decisions often hinge on delicate margins of victory.

Denying a woman access to abortion tends to harm her economic security and well-being. For example, there is often severe, immediate financial stress, especially for rural or lower-income women, as a result of travel and associated costs incurred in simply trying to access an abortion facility. If unsuccessful, there is often ongoing interruption to that woman’s employment. Many women and their families live paycheck to paycheck and lost wages, in conjunction with the medical costs of childbirth and unpaid family medical leave for 95% of U.S. workers, only accelerates their immediate economic pain.  

And the long-term economic impact on the lives of women denied access to abortion includes not only the expense of raising a child but doing so with significantly lower lifetime earnings, compared to women able to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Lower-income women and women of color bear the most severe economic effects of being denied an abortion.

Some Democrats, like Michigan Gov.Gretchen Whitmer, have linked abortion rights directly to Michigan’s economy in her re-election campaign, highlighting abortion access as essential to the state’s ability to attract and maintain both businesses and workers.

In discussing the larger problem of ignoring the interdependence of political issues, Rev. D. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, blames the current disconnect in large part on political consultants.  

"Too many of these consultants, especially Democratic consultants, try to find one issue," Rev. Barber has argued. "They say now we can just focus on Jan. 6 or rolling back Roe v. Wade. What you have to do is connect that: The same people that did Jan. 6 also rolled back Roe, also block living wages, also block health care and also block voting rights. Connect the dots. Don't disconnect the dots."

Rev. Barber’s point about framing issues is well-taken. But the disconnect goes much deeper, as the road to dismantling abortion rights itself so tragically illustrates. 

When Henry Hyde cobbled together enough votes to pass the Hyde Amendment for the first time in 1976, ending federal abortion funds for women on welfare, many of whom were women of color, most feminists did not feel it was a threat to their own reproductive freedom. But for those activists, like Angela Davis, who understood women’s equality as intersecting with racial and economic justice, Hyde was a direct assault on all women.  Poor women were simply the first casualties.  

I heard Davis address the larger meaning of the Hyde Amendment at a talk in Pittsburgh on behalf of Women for Racial and Economic Equality (WREE), an organization she helped found and to which I belonged. But the sense of urgency Davis felt was not shared by most feminist organizations comprised almost exclusively of white, middle-class women who had framed abortion as a personal choice and private decision between a woman and her doctor, a situation bearing little family resemblance to poor women who relied on public clinics, public funds and public facilities to negotiate their "private decisions." That disconnect set the trajectory for the eventual erosion of abortion access for all women. While it's easier in retrospect to understand how things fit together, I wonder how we're doing at connecting those same dots today, particularly in terms of this mid-term election? 

If you're agonizing over the loss of abortion rights, consider that it may be the clout of 85 million poor and low-wealth voters who decide them, especially in swing states where decisions often hinge on delicate margins of victory. And if you're educated, middle-class, and rather "successful" consider the urgency of raising the minimum wage to a living wage and the impact on women and their families. Women's reproductive rights are critical to the economy. If you want to protect abortion and stabilize the economy, connect the dots.


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Trudy Bayer

Trudy Bayer

Trudy Bayer is a political activist, rhetorical critic, and founding director of the Oral Communication Lab at the University of Pittsburgh.

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