It’s been a year since an early draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked, a precursor to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that overturned the federal right to abortion. (Getty Images)
By Marc Stier and Claire Kovach
Before the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court ruling, more than 150economists—organized by Dr. Caitlin Myers—signed an amicus brief that contained extensive data detailing the profound effects that access or lack of access to abortion has for women. Meyers summarized decades of rigorous research in saying, “Childbearing is the single most economically important decision most women make.”
Our recent research paper supports this claim. We estimate banning abortion in Pennsylvania would reduce the income of women by more than $10 billion yearly.
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. And denying women that right will be costly.
The right to an abortion is a part of one’s personal autonomy. This is a right of all human beings. That, by itself, is reason enough to reject any further limitations on abortion. The health complications for potential mothers that often arise from pregnancy are more reason to reject any ban on abortion. Aside from these, an abortion ban also has substantial financial costs that extend far into the economic sphere for both families and the state.
Abortion access shapes lives, families, and futures. It is critical to women’s equal participation in society. Abortion access affects women’s physical and mental health, their ability to get an education, their experiences with hardship and poverty, and their employment and earnings prospects. An abortion ban would reinforce the economic inequality that already characterizes the economy of our state.
Adding a child during a time of financial instability often plunges individuals and families into deeper or chronic poverty, unable to work their way out of persistent hardship as disadvantages snowball.
A ban on abortion would be financially costly for the state as well. Any public policy that increases poverty and economic hardship and reduces employment will have an impact on the labor force, as well as on already strained safety net supports such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC, and Medicaid.
It is difficult to develop a precise estimate of the impact of a total ban on abortion in Pennsylvania. But recent work by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) can give us a handle on this question. Last year, IWPR released a study of the economic impact of abortion bans and targeted restrictions on abortion providers.
They estimate that absent Pennsylvania’s current restrictions, there would be an increase of 22,048 Pennsylvania women, aged 15-44, in the labor force. That would lead employed Pennsylvania women in this age group to earn an additional $5.3 billion. These estimates do not take into account the increased social safety net costs associated with the higher rates of poverty experienced by families who would be denied abortions under a Pennsylvania ban.
If a full abortion ban is enacted in Pennsylvania, it is uncertain exactly how many more women would be prevented from abortion access. But currently, more than 32,000 abortions take place in the state each year. We would expect that if a total ban were put in place, some people seeking abortion would secure one in another state.
But there are currently only 18 clinics that offer abortions in Pennsylvania, and opponents of abortion are considering aggressive laws in Pennsylvania and other states around the country. Ohio and West Virginia, our western border neighbors, already have more restrictive abortion policy environments than Pennsylvania.
This context, along with the fact that many abortion patients are poor—thus making it difficult for them to travel—leads us to expect that under a state ban, many Pennsylvanians would be forced to give birth to unwanted children. Many would attempt an unsafe, self-induced abortion.
If two-thirds of the clinic abortions that take place in our state now are blocked by new restrictive laws, the number of prevented clinic abortions in our state would double. 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 more than $10 billion yearly in Pennsylvania alone.
Safe abortion access is a life-or-death situation for women and others across the Commonwealth. An abortion ban would be expensive in so many different ways and would hurt vulnerable Pennsylvanians the most.
Marc Stier and Claire Kovach write on behalf of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, a progressive think-tank in Harrisburg. Their work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.
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