Report: Total abortion ban would deal $10B blow to Pa. economy | Monday Morning Coffee

Low-income and pregnant people of color would be especially harmed, new research shows

By: - September 26, 2022 7:12 am
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, attends the Senate Education Committee Hearing held at the Pennsylvania Capitol on May 24, 2022 in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Already a central issue in midterm contests across the country, including Pennsylvania, a newly released report underlines the economic stakes of the fight over abortion access in the commonwealth.

Taking into account both the direct and indirect effects, a total ban on abortion would punch a $10 billion a year hole in the state’s economy through lost wages, especially harming low-income and pregnant people of color, according to the progressive Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center.

The new study, released late last week, relies on established research showing that the inability to obtain an abortion makes it harder for women to pursue an education, reduces their employment prospects and ability to earn good wages, and increases their chances of facing economic hardship and poverty.

“The evidence is clear: allowing people to have a say in when they get pregnant, allowing them a choice in planning their families, and allowing them to decide how many children they will have contributes to their individual health, safety, well-being, and social and financial security,” the report’s authors, Claire Kovach and Marc Stier, wrote.

That matters because Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano has said he opposes abortion under all circumstances. He’s also backing a proposal that would ban abortion at as early as six weeks, which is before most people know that they’re pregnant.

Those are positions that are so extreme that even some Mastriano supporters, who oppose abortion rights, told the Capital-Star’s Peter Hall that they’d back some exceptions.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, has vetoed every bill limiting abortion access that the Republican-controlled General Assembly has sent his way. The York County pol, however, will leave office in January after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms.

Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the current state attorney general, similarly has vowed to defend abortion access if voters choose him in November. And with Republicans likely to retain control of at least one legislative chamber, that has considerably raised the stakes of the November canvass.

(Source: Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center)

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June toppling Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania under the state’s Abortion Control Act. And public opinion polls continue to show that most state residents support abortion being legal under most circumstances.

Pennsylvania has collected data on induced abortions since 1975, a requirement under state law. According to 2020 data, the latest available, of the 32,123 abortions performed that year, the majority — 21,934 — occurred eight weeks or less into a pregnancy. None occurred at 24 or more weeks, the Capital-Star reported in August.

Even without Republican-backed restrictions in place, the report sketches out the already rough economic topography facing tens of thousands of Pennsylvania workers.

“Since 1979, wages have been stagnant or have declined for workers in Pennsylvania with less than a bachelor’s degree,” Kovach and Stier wrote. “Workers with less than a high school degree or even some college have seen the gap between their wages and those of college graduates increase.”

And “apart from keeping some women from participating in the labor force entirely, banning abortion will reduce wages for women and especially for women with less than a college degree and women who are Black. Thus, an abortion ban will reinforce the economic inequality that already characterizes the economy of our state,” they continued.

Hundreds of protesters rally in Harrisburg on Saturday, May 14, 2022, to promote abortion access. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)

Further emphasizing the economic stakes of an abortion ban, the report underlines the fact that abortion access has been a “driving force” in women participating in the labor access, Kovach and Stier wrote.

They point to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that in the decade-and-a-half after the initial Roe v. Wade ruling, “women’s labor force participation rate rose rapidly, with a trend that leveled off in recent years. Even so, “abortion access increased the probability of a woman working 40 weeks or more per year by almost 2 percentage points,” they noted.

According to Kovach and Stier, research has shown that “young women who took advantage of legal abortion to delay starting a family by one year had an 11 percent increase in hourly wages later in their careers.”

And “women denied an abortion were six times as likely to have incomes below the federal poverty line compared to those who had one,” they wrote.

That also matters because the number of dual workers in some American families dropped during the pandemic and have yet to catch up. In fact, more than a million women have left the workforce since February 2020, Fortune reported earlier this month. The loss of productivity and wages has helped contribute to the nation’s economic slowdown.

Kovach and Stier acknowledged in their study that it’s “difficult to develop a precise estimate the impact of the total ban on abortion,” as supported by Mastriano and other Republicans.

But even without the state’s currently limited restrictions on access, including a 24-hour waiting period and a near-total ban on Medicaid coverage for abortion care, there would be an additional 22,048 Pennsylvania women, aged 15-44, in the labor force, collectively earning about $5.3 billion, they wrote, citing data compiled by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Kovach and Stier also acknowledged in their study that it’s difficult to say exactly how many pregnant people in Pennsylvania would be blocked from obtaining an abortion if a total ban is enacted.

Some people, they allowed, would travel to other jurisdictions, but many others, primarily low-income patients, would be barred from traveling because of the cost and difficulty it would involve.

“If two-thirds of the abortions that take place in our state now are blocked by new restrictive laws, the number of prevented abortion in our state would double,” they wrote. “And that means that the economic cost of a full abortion ban in Pennsylvania would be more than double the IWPR estimate of the cost of current restrictions, or over $10 billion yearly in Pennsylvania alone.”

That $10 billion, they added, likely is a conservative estimate. And while “it is a very large number, we should also point out that the sum total of all wages in Pennsylvania is $309 billion,” they wrote, concluding that a strict ban would lower total wages by 3 percent, “which is a substantial reduction.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.