The Economics of Abortion in a Post-Roe World

(Photograph by Tara Moore/Getty Images.)

Since a draft opinion written by Justice Alito indicating that the Supreme Court would reverse Roe vs. Wade has been leaked, much of the debate has been philosophical, dealing with the bodily autonomy of women versus the rights of the unborn child, and what kind of different laws states could enact now that the issue of abortion was returned to elected officials. But it is also a problem that has economic consequences. State-level abortion bans will affect the economy as a whole and women in particular in many different ways.

What effect, exactly, does legal abortion have on women’s ability to participate in the economy?

It’s a tricky question. One might think that the study of women’s participation in the labor market, wages and years of education before and after Roe vs. Wade would provide some clues, but correlation does not equal causation. Many things changed during the 1970s that affected women’s role in the economy. Abortion is a variable, but it would be intellectually dishonest to attribute all of the rise in female labor force participation after 1973 to legal abortion.

In recent decades, economists have approached this through so-called natural experiments: five states and the District of Columbia had already legalized abortion before Roe vs. Wade. By comparing outcomes for women in those states after abortion was legalized versus the rest of the country (or by comparing each state to a similar state that had no legal abortion beforedeer) can, at least in theory, allow us to isolate the effect that legalizing abortion has on women in the economy and society as a whole.

Using this method, the legalization of abortion reduced the number of teenage mothers by 34% and teenage brides by 20%, while maternal mortality among black women fell by 30-40%.

Meanwhile, using the same methodology, economics researchers found that legalized abortion increase female education and employment rates, as well as labor market participation in general (above all for black women). Legal abortion too increase the share of women in jobs covered by social security.

Since natural experiments are held in high esteem for their ability to establish causation rather than simple correlation, one might think that would settle the matter. Things, however, are more than a little more complicated.

The main flaw in relying on these studies as an indicator of the type of adverse effect Roe vs. Wade can have on women is that they are all based on very old data. In 1970, an unplanned pregnancy that led to a woman becoming a single mother was devastating. The stigma was severe. There were few options for single mothers to further their education, at least not without relying on family support, and single motherhood stifled career options. While there is little doubt that motherhood still imposes a cost on women’s earnings and career prospects, that cost is not as high as it was 50 years ago.

Half a century ago, women who became pregnant out of wedlock faced immense social pressure to marry the father (although to be fair, men were also reluctantly herded down the aisle of “gunshot weddings”). hunt”). This affected their economic prospects as “wedding bars” were still common. These bars were banned by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but it took time for employers to change their attitude. An accidental pregnancy that caused a spontaneous and socially mandated marriage could very well force a woman out of the workforce. This is no longer the case.

Additionally, discrimination against pregnant women remained legal until 1979. At the time Roe vs. Wade was decided, a woman could still be legally fired if she became pregnant. This is part of what drove the demand for abortion among educated women, as pregnancies were quite capable of ending promising careers. While no one can say that pregnancies don’t affect career development, they aren’t nearly as bad today as they were back then.

The second problem with these studies which aim to instil the idea that a return to a pre-deer America would be devastating for women in the economy is that natural experiments, by their very nature, struggle to find a suitable control group. Of the five jurisdictions) that had legalized abortion before deer, four of them – Alaska, California, New York and Hawaii – had and still have economies that seem quite different from the rest of the country (the “control group”), the last three having a service sector and professional much larger than most other states. This is relevant because pregnancies and marriages have mainly caused career breaks (or worse) for women in these sectors. It is highly likely that natural experiments exaggerate the effect, as the control and treatment groups are not actually identical.

Third, in addition to changing cultural attitudes towards single mothers and working mothers, technology has also made it easier to combine parenthood and work. The pandemic has significantly boosted the already growing number of remote jobs, making it easier to keep mothers in the workforce.

Fourth, women have far more access to contraceptives than they had in 1970. Abortion bans will almost certainly lead to changes in sexual behavior and risk-taking that were frankly not possible for many Americans in 1970, when access to contraceptives was much more limited. It will also mitigate the real impact of any restrictions on abortion.

Finally, the pre-deer abortion bans were far more effective than any modern abortion ban could realistically be. Of the five states, only one — New York — has allowed non-state residents to have abortions. Pre-deer, if you lived in a state with no legal abortion, you couldn’t just travel to a state where it was legal, because you had to prove your residency in order to have an abortion in any of those states except New York . Whereas more than half of the states are likely to prohibit or restrict abortion, those that allow it will almost certainly allow “abortion tourism”. The effect of abortion bans on women will be less because the bans will be less effective (though traveling out of state will admittedly be more difficult for poorer women).

And that brings us to the real and important problem that pro-lifers must now address:deer America needs to become a better place to raise a family, and especially a better place to be a mother. There is an image of Republicans as caring about babies only while they are in the womb, subsequently abandoning vulnerable mothers after persuading (or coercing) them not to have abortions. Even if this image is not fully justified, more needs to be done to combat it. An America where becoming a mother is an unattractive option will never be able to impose an abortion ban.

To start, a post-deer America needs paid, legally mandated maternity leave. Only 25 percent of American workers in the private sector work for employees who offer paid parental leave (maternity, paternity or both). The loss of income resulting from caring for a newborn is an obstacle to procreation and constitutes an indirect incentive to violate any prohibition on abortion. Family leave may be a contentious issue for conservatives, but Donald Trump has signed a bill that provides paid parental leave for federal workers during his administration, and this is something that should be extended to private sector employees. (Abby McCloskey wrote about a proposal that could enjoy bipartisan support for the dispatch.)

Second, the cost of maternity care must be drastically reduced and, ideally, such care should be unconditionally free. The prospect of going bankrupt or being indebted for life by medical debt resulting from a potentially complicated childbirth makes abortion more attractive. Even in the absence of a universal European-style health care system in the United States, there are ways to fix it, whether by increasing government subsidies to ACA plans, allowing all plans to providing maternity care with no deductible or co-insurance, or funding maternity care through a separate program.

It is better to consider children as a public good. Everyone, even the childless, benefits or will benefit from the birth of children today, as we all end up depending on the existence of future generations, both to provide care and to maintain the solvency of rights. such as social security and health insurance. The United States allows its childless population to enjoy free parenting, enjoying all the benefits of having children, while bearing virtually none of the costs.

Third, the cost of domestic adoptions must be drastically reduced and funding for family and child protection services drastically increased. While there is no doubt that CPS agencies often display misguided priorities and, in some cases, need to be restrained, there is also no doubt that addressing child abuse and neglect is costly. In places where abortion is no longer legal, many more women will inevitably end up giving birth to children they either don’t want or are unable to support. Although tax credits cover part of the costs of adoption, couples who wish to adopt still have to make significant upfront payments before obtaining these credits (which, again, only cover part of the cost) . CPS agencies must have the necessary resources to monitor and ensure the well-being of children at risk.

A great danger with the overthrow of Roe vs. Wade is that Republicans, many of whom have only cared about the pro-life cause, will not understand or accept the magnitude of the changes that will need to be made to successfully transition America to the afterlife.deer time. The backlash can be severe, and the long-awaited reversal of Roe vs. Wade could quickly turn into a Pyrrhic victory for the pro-life movement, killing its political credibility for eternity. Pro-life groups, after spending half a century lobbying for the appointment of anti-abortion judges, must now focus on ensuring that politicians make the practical changes needed to make a pro-life America possible.


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