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Supreme Court’s plan to overturn Roe would set back women’s economic gains

The Supreme Court’s expected reversal of Roe v. Wade and the abortion rights it provides threatens to roll back the economic and educational progress made by American women over the past 49 years.

Abortion rights have improved women’s ability to access higher education. They have led to increased lifetime earnings. And they gave women greater long-term financial stability.

The Supreme Court is well aware of these gains. A group of 154 economists and researchers pointed them out in a court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Program, which examines abortion restrictions enacted in Mississippi. But the court apparently plans to ignore those gains ― and reverse them ― in a ruling expected in June that would end the constitutional right to abortion.

The discussion around reproductive rights is often framed as part of a “culture war” between religious conservatives and secular liberals over non-material concerns. A leaked majority draft opinion in the case, written by Judge Samuel Alito, largely focuses on a (dubious) history of abortion law in an effort to show that legal abortion is not not “deeply rooted” in the country’s “history and tradition” in his country. argument to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade.

But as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted earlier this week, the right to have an abortion is also an economic issue.

Evidence of women’s economic gains following the nationwide legalization of abortion in 1973 can be found in the economists’ amicus curae brief filed with the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case. The brief describes the results of causal inference studies conducted since the Roe decision to show the positive economic effects the decision has had on women’s lives.

“Studies show that in addition to impacting births, legalizing abortion had a significant impact on women’s wages and educational attainment, with the impacts felt more strongly by black women. “, says the memoir.

According to a 1996 research paper, black teenage girls who had access to abortion services graduated from high school at a rate of 22% to 24% more and attended college at 23% to 27. % more than black teenage girls who did not have access to these services. by economists Joshua Angrist and William Evans.

Abortion rights supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 2 after Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

Follow-up studies have found similar gains in women’s educational attainment and career success.

According to a study 2019 by economist Ali Abboud.

Similarly, the likelihood of graduating from college increased by almost 20% and the likelihood of entering a professional field increased by 40% for young women who had an abortion after an unwanted pregnancy, according to a 2021 study by economist Kelly Jones.

According to the Jones study, young women who have an abortion after an unwanted pregnancy before the age of 20 increase their earnings later in life by $11,000 to $15,000 per year. While this result shows positive improvement for all young women, the economic impact of access to abortion for young black women is “striking,” according to Jones’ study.

Young black women who have abortions after an unwanted pregnancy between the ages of 15 and 23 have seen their individual incomes increase by $23,200 to $28,000 per year and their family incomes increase by $48,000 to $52,000 per year.

The brief also cites the Rejection study, a well-known research paper on the differing outcomes of women who were able to access abortion services and those who were turned away due to arriving at a clinic after their home state law barred them to have an abortion. The study found that the average woman who was denied an abortion saw a 78% increase in “unpaid debts” and an 81% increase in “public records related to bankruptcies, evictions, and court judgments.” “.

“The financial effects of refusing an abortion are therefore as great or greater than those of being deported, losing health insurance, being hospitalized, or being exposed to flooding from a hurricane. “, says the brief on the findings of the Turnaway study.

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe next month, 26 states are certain or likely to immediately ban abortion. This means that millions of women across the country will no longer have access to the abortion services that have provided such material economic gains over the past 49 years. This will hit the poorest and most economically at risk women and their children the hardest. Nearly half of women seeking abortions are poor, 59% already have children, and 55% have recently experienced a “disruptive life event” such as job loss or death in the family.

“Causal inference tells us that the legalization of abortion has caused profound changes in women’s lives,” the economists’ amicus brief states. “But these changes are neither sufficient nor permanent: access to abortion is still relevant and necessary for women’s equal and full participation in society.

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