The devastating economic impacts of the abortion ban

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Last December, oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that led to last week’s leaked draft opinion that, if finalized, would overturn Roe v. Wade. In one particularly illuminating moment, Chief Justice John Roberts attempted to appeal to Julie Rikelman, the litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who was arguing in favor of overturning the abortion ban after fifteen weeks in the state of Mississippi, in a back-and-forth about the cutoff’s meaning for access to abortion. Rikelman made a broader argument, that restricting women’s access to the procedure could disproportionately harm low-income women or those experiencing personal crises. She resorted 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 central to women’s equal participation in society. It’s been fundamental to their health, to their lives, to their ability to pursue…

“Sorry, what kind of data is that?” Roberts interrupted.

When Rikelman tried to reply, Roberts interrupted again. “Well, putting that data aside,” he said, “why would fifteen weeks be an inappropriate line?”

Listening to the exchange, Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College who studies gender, race and the effects of reproductive health policies on people’s lives, was stunned. Why would a Supreme Court justice, considering such a crucial issue, not be interested in knowing “the facts”? Roberts’s colleagues noted a similar disregard in the draft opinion for the Dobbs case that was posted by politician: The judges behind the opinion seemed unconcerned about the issue. Where Roe’s original decision recognized that forcing people to bear and raise unwanted children could “force” women into “a harrowing life and future,” the draft opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, made little mention of the substantial ways in which loss of access to safe, legal abortion would impede women’s ability to fully participate in society.

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Last fall, Myers brought together 154 economists to file an amicus curiae brief against the abortion ban, in which they outlined decades of research on how unwanted pregnancies can affect education, employment and income prospects. of women, and can affect the labor market. more broadly. “Economists in general don’t disagree on this,” Myers said. “This is not a question about the minimum wage; if you mention that, then they will start arguing. But if you ask about the role of motherhood in women’s lives, they don’t discuss many of the facts.”

Tiffany Green, a population health economist and scientist and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, noted that many of those effects would fall disproportionately on those who were already marginalized, particularly women of color. and non-binary and transgender people. . Some statistics help clarify how race and class influence who will be harmed the most: In 2014, 49 percent of all abortions were performed by people below the federal poverty line. As of 2004, approximately one-third were obtained by white people, thirty-seven percent by black people, and twenty-two percent by Hispanic people. Black women are much more likely than white women to experience an unwanted pregnancy, due to disparities in the economy and health care system, and other factors; for the same group, childbirth is more dangerous. “Whether you believe abortion is moral or not, the evidence is the evidence,” Green told me. “And the overwhelming thrust of the evidence is that this will negatively impact pregnant women and others’ economic prospects, their mental health, their physical health, and ultimately their lives. It is likely that the end of Roe v. Wade has devastating consequences.”

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In the brief filed with the Court, Thomas Dobbs and the State of Mississippi made an argument about modern parenthood that seemed out of touch with reality. Dobbs, a health officer for the state of Mississippi, argues that the Roe v. Wade, and a subsequent Supreme Court case that upheld Roe in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, they just weren’t relevant to women and fathers anymore. “The march of progress has gone Roe Y Casey back,” the letter says. He goes on to suggest that factors such as access to contraception, family leave laws, and the availability of child care had made the issue irrelevant. In addition, he points out, all fifty states have “safe haven” laws that make it possible to turn unwanted newborns over to the government so they can be adopted, often with no questions asked. All of these developments, the abstract says, “facilitate women’s ability to pursue both professional success and a rich family life.” In response, Myers noted, “You don’t need an economist with fancy statistics to tell you that’s ridiculous.”

The legalization of abortion, in the seventies, had dramatic effects on the ages and circumstances in which women became mothers. It reduced the number of teenage mothers by a third and the number of women who married as teenagers by a fifth. “Those effects are concentrated among young women and women of color,” Myers said. “Even when abortion was illegal, women who had the means found a way.” Women who were able to delay childbearing through legal access to abortion were much more likely to finish college, earn higher degrees, spend more time in the workforce, and enter higher-paying occupations; they were much less likely to fall into poverty later in life. “Fifty years later, the question is: does it still matter?” Myers said, about access to abortion. “In short, the answer is yes.”

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The draft opinion suggests that conservative members of the Court accepted as fact the fanciful version of reality presented by Dobbs’ argument, or perhaps they simply did not believe that the possible economic effects of the abortion ban on the lives of women women are relevant to health. discussion. In truth, most people don’t have access to paid family leave: the US is one of the few nations that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to new parents. The cost of childcare is prohibitively expensive, averaging more than a thousand dollars a month for babies. Research by economists like Harvard’s Claudia Goldin and Cornell University’s Francine Blau have shown that the gender pay gap begins to widen once women become mothers. The job protections that exist for mothers apply primarily to people with college degrees; At the lower end of the economic spectrum, where hourly workers may work shifts with unpredictable hours, few safeguards exist. “I think we need the data. And we have it. And we gave it to him,” Myers told me. “And it seems that it is not reflected in that draft.”