USA TODAY International Edition
Women warn of economic harm if they leave jobs
A Supreme Court decision to end nationwide abortion protections could dampen women’s participation in the workforce and hurt the economy, especially during an era of severe labor shortages, women’s rights groups say.
“This will have a devastating impact on women’s labor force participation,” said Nicole Mason, head of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which works toward economic equity and well- being for women and families.
Testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “I believe
that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.
“Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor force participation. It enabled many women to finish school. That increased their earning potential. It allowed women to plan and balance their families and careers.”
The labor force participation rate is the share of people working or looking for jobs.
Thirteen states have “trigger laws” that immediately would restrict or ban abortion if the high court finalizes its draft opinion overturning the 49- year- old ruling, Mason said. A similar number are likely to quickly pass such laws, meaning about half of the states would curtail access to legal abortions.
A study last year by Wade's institute found that state restrictions on abortion result in 505,000 fewer women ages 1544 in the labor force. It said the constraints cost state economies $ 105 billion a year in lost wages and other expenses. Limits include abortion bans after a certain point in the pregnancy, requirements for parental approval or counseling, waiting periods and prohibitions on public funding.
The nation's gross domestic product would be 0.5% larger without the state curbs, the institute said.
The negative effects on the economy probably would roughly double if half the states enact much tougher abortion restrictions, Mason predicted.
Many women, especially low- income workers who are paid hourly, travel to other states to get abortions because of the restraints, losing work hours and wages, Mason said. About 13% of women ages 15 to 44 are fired after taking family or medical leave the previous 12 months, the Women's Policy Research study found. Businesses that lose those employees must bear the cost of filling those positions.
Others facing abortion hurdles carry their pregnancies to term and raise children before they planned to, said Emily Martin, vice president for education and workplace justice for the National Women's Law Center, which advocates for gender justice and equity. That, she said, keeps them out of the workforce or prevents them from advancing their education so they can earn higher pay,
“If Roe is overturned, there will be a big increase in the number of people who want abortions and can't get them,” Martin said.
Yellen told lawmakers in her testimony Tuesday that “denying women access to abortion increases their odds of living in poverty or need for public assistance.”
Rachel Greszler, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said she had no basis to dispute the Institute for Women's Policy Research's figures on the economic effects of restricting abortion. But she said the group didn't account for the lost economic potential of the unborn: “They're just looking at one side of the equation.
“They're not recognizing what happens for women who didn't have abortions and their children were born and became productive ( participants) in the economy. If you have 100% abortions, you don't have an economy.”
Supporters of Roe said its reversal could be particularly disruptive to an economy healing from the effects of the pandemic.
Employers struggle to draw Americans back to the job market after they left to care for children, avoid COVID- 19 or for other reasons. Decisions by many to stay on the sidelines led to widespread worker shortages that pushed up wages but intensified the nation's worst bout of inflation in 40 years.
The labor force participation rate – the share of people working or looking for jobs – was at 62.2% in April, a figure that generally has risen since last summer but remains below the pre- pandemic mark of 63.4%. Women's labor force participation was at 56.7% last month, down from 57.9% before the crisis.
Overturning Roe “would be detrimental for … getting women back to work,” Mason said.
The Heritage Foundation's Greszler disputed that child- rearing keeps women out of the workforce. She noted the labor force participation of women ages 25 to 54 showed a steady rise through the decade before the Roe decision in 1973 and the decade after as millions of women entered the workforce.
The participation rate climbed more sharply during the 10 years after Roe, from 53.2% to 67.6%, compared with the prior decade's increase from 44.3% to 53.2%, though it's unclear to what extent other factors may have played a role, such as the growing share of women earning college degrees.
The high court's ruling could reshuffle economic fortunes among states.
Businesses in states that restrict abortion especially would be hobbled in their efforts to attract high- skilled women from elsewhere, Mason said.
Two- thirds of men and women said Texas' law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy would discourage them from working in the state, according to a survey last year by Perry Undem, a nonpartisan research firm. About half of those surveyed said they would consider moving out of a state that passed a similar ban.
This wouldn't be the first time that changes in women's reproductive choices have affected their participation in the workforce. “Female participation increased dramatically with the introduction of the ( birth control) pill” in the 1960s, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics.
From 1970 to 1990, the pill accounted for a 3- percentage- point increase in the participation rate for 16- to- 30- year- old women, according to a study in 2005 by the University of Michigan.
“I believe that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen