What we know about the economic effects of limiting access to abortion

In addition to the moral and political debates over abortion access, there is an economic dimension. For people living in states without access to abortions, the financial consequences of a pregnancy can be long lasting. PBS News Weekend’s Ali Rogin reports.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    In addition to the moral and political debates over abortion access, there is an economic argument to for people living in states without access to abortions, the financial consequences can be long lasting. my colleague Ali Rogin has more.

  • Ali Rogin:

    The legalization of abortion in the 1970s had a dramatic effect on when and under what circumstances women become mothers. A large body of research over the 50 years since has shown how unwanted pregnancies can affect women's education, employment and earning prospects.

    Caitlin Knowles Myers, an economist at Middlebury College joins us to discuss what we know about the economic effects of limiting access to abortion.

    Caitlin, thank you so much for joining us. A lot of the costs of having a child seem self-evident. I think to a lot of people, it's obviously a very expensive undertaking. But there is empirical data that shows how being denied and abortion can transform a person's financial well-being. Tell us about that data.

  • Caitlin Knowles Myers, Middlebury College:

    Sure. So economists know that whether and when to have a child is one of the most economically significant decisions that a woman will make in her lifetime. And we also know that women who are seeking abortions tend to be disproportionately at vulnerable moments in their lives. They are disproportionately low income, most of them are already parenting. Many of them are experiencing disruptive life events like being behind on the rent or losing a job.

    One really influential study, the turn away study followed hundreds of women who were seeking abortions. And some of these women were arriving at abortion providers just half the gestational age cut off to obtain the abortion, and were turned away from the provider as a result. And they saw that for the months and years leading up to that pivotal moment in their lives. All of these women had very similar financial circumstances.

    But at this moment, when a group of them was turned away from the abortion they wanted to have they experienced about an 80 percent increase in adverse credit events like bankruptcies compared to the women who received the abortions that they want it.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Now on the flip side, of course, it seems that the way that this ruling came down means that access to people in certain socio economics, certainly certain racial subgroups are going to be able to maintain access, even if restrictions in the state in which they live tighten.

    So, I'd love to ask, is that access really going to become stratified depending on what socio economic and what racial groups people fall into?

  • Caitlin Knowles Myers:

    Yes, we have a lot of empirical evidence to suggest that the answer is yes that the Dobb's decision and the overturning of Roe isn't going to eliminate abortion access for all American women, but rather it's going to create really substantial in inequality in access.

    What we've seen suggests that about three quarters of the women who live in areas where access is about to decline are still going to find a way. They are going to scrimp, they're going to struggle, but they are going to find a way to make those trips to the states where abortion remains legal.

    But about a quarter of women based on what we know, are likely to end up trapped, trapped by poverty, trapped by their personal circumstances, like being in abusive relationships, and are unlikely to be able to get out. And perhaps not surprisingly, the women who end up trapped are disproportionately poor, they're disproportionately young, are disproportionately women of color.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And to that, there are some abortion funds that have said, you know, there are organizations that say they're going to help support women to make sure that they can afford the abortions. But they don't necessarily mention some of those hidden costs that you mentioned the cost of child care, while pursuing an abortion, the cost of travel, do you anticipate that those hidden costs are going to be things that prevent some people from pursuing abortions?

  • Caitlin Knowles Myers:

    Yes, we've seen it before, even with the presence of these types of funds in these types of access. And I don't mean to imply they won't make a difference to people's lives, these funds, absolutely, are going to end up helping women who otherwise could not travel, find a way out.

    But it's also the case that making trips like these, these will be trips for many women have hundreds or even thousands of miles round trip. And many of these are women who have a hard time often taking time off work, who are living on the financial margins, who are having trouble finding childcare for their children.

    And so there are so many of these hidden costs that it seems quite likely that a large number of women will despite access to these types of resources, still struggle to find a way out.

  • Ali Rogin:

    And very quickly, I want to ask you, in the Dobbs case, lawyers for the state of Mississippi argued that policies like parental leave and childcare which weren't as prevalent when Roe was initially decided, quote, facilitate the ability of women to pursue both career success and a rich family life. Putting aside the fact that not everybody wants both of those things. What's your response to that?

  • Caitlin Knowles Myers:

    The reality is, most American women still don't have access to paid family leave, particularly poor women, particularly low income women who are seeking abortions. And even if they find a way to subsidize or pay for childcare, many of these women work in what's called shift work. They have very unpredictable schedules, which make it really difficult to schedule, childcare.

    So I'm not denying that all sorts of policy advances have facilitated work life balance. But I also think that parents still face substantial logistical and financial challenges and that there's they're even greater for low income families.

  • Ali Rogin:

    Caitlin Knowles Myers, economist at Middlebury College, thank you so much for your time.

  • Caitlin Knowles Myers:

    Thank you for having me.

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