The economics of abortion bans: Abortion bans, low wages, and public underinvestment are interconnected economic policy tools to disempower and control workers

Jan 18, 2023 | by
  • Description

Abortion has long been framed as a cultural, religious, or personal issue rather than a material "bread and butter" economic concern. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, more economic policymakers have been emphasizing the issue as a pressing economic concern. In perhaps the first public comment on the issue by a major political figure, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen noted: "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" (Guida 2022). This direct connection between abortion and reproductive access and economic rights is critical (Banerjee 2022). This report argues that abortion access is fundamentally intertwined with economic progress and mobility. Specifically, in states where abortion has been banned or restricted, abortion restrictions constitute an additional piece in a sustained project of economic subjugation and disempowerment.

The states banning abortion rights have, over decades, intentionally constructed an economic policy architecture defined by weak labor standards, underfunded and purposefully dysfunctional public services, and high levels of incarceration. Through a cross-sectional quantitative analysis of state level abortion access status and five indicators of economic security—the minimum wage, unionization, unemployment insurance, Medicaid expansion, and incarceration—we find that, generally, the states enacting abortion bans are the same ones that are economically disempowering workers through other channels.

The results of the analysis underscore that abortion restrictions and bans do have economic effects, given the strong correlation between abortion status and various economic wellbeing metrics. Further, the consistent pattern of state abortion bans and negative economic outcomes shows how abortion fits into an economics and politics of control. Abortion restrictions are planks in a policy regime of disempowerment and control over workers' autonomy and livelihoods, just like deliberately low wage standards, underfunded social services, or restricted collective bargaining power. Economic policymakers must prioritize this issue as widespread abortion bans will contribute to a loss in economic security and independence for millions in the current and future generations.