National Commentary

Congressman Don Beyer: “Abortion Access Is Key to Economic Freedom”

Saturday marked the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision that granted women the right to safe and legal abortion. While the constitutional right to bodily autonomy has been repeatedly affirmed, a case currently before the Supreme Court has put reproductive rights in jeopardy. A decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has the power to eliminate women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health, is the most serious threat in decades to women’s reproductive freedom.

This will certainly have consequences for women’s individual agency. But often overlooked are the economic impacts of restrictive laws that limit women’s freedom to choose if and when to have a child.

Access to safe and legal abortion enables people to make the decisions that are right for them and their financial security. These decisions have lifelong economic consequences not only for the people directly impacted, but also their families and communities. Being able to delay motherhood by one year due to access to legal abortion increased women’s wages by 11 percent on average. Access to abortion expanded women’s career opportunities, including higher likelihood of attaining a professional role, by almost 40 percentage points. And studies show that access to abortion increased women’s probability of graduating college by 72 percent. The effect was even larger for Black women, whose chances of completing college nearly tripled.

Access to abortion not only shapes the economic outcomes of the pregnant person, but also the economic circumstances that children grow up in. Women who wanted an abortion, but who were unable to get one, were subsequently more likely to have financial problems than the women who were able to obtain an abortion in time. After safe abortion was legalized, the percentage of children growing up in poverty decreased and future life outcomes improved, including increased college attendance rates.

Systemic racial inequality has led to pervasive health disparities. For example, barriers to healthcare and discrimination have resulted in rates of pregnancy-related deaths that are three times higher among Black women relative to white women. Restricting access to reproductive healthcare will further exacerbate these long-standing inequalities. By contrast, safe abortion access improved economic outcomes for Black women at a higher magnitude than for white women, helping to narrow racial economic disparities, and reduced Black maternal mortality by 30 to 40 percent.

If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, which is the likely outcome of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, abortion would be likely to quickly become illegal in 22 states. Clinics would close, and more than 40 percent of women of childbearing age would have to travel an average of 279 miles—up from 35 miles—to access comprehensive reproductive care. Further, the 22 states are concentrated in the South and Midwest and are disproportionately economically disadvantaged, such that the financial burden of accessing care and securing transportation, lodging, and childcare—because the majority of women seeking abortions already have children—would further exacerbate geographic inequality, strain household budgets, and constrict economic opportunity. As it is now, unnecessary restrictions on women seeking abortions, restrictions that have no basis in medical science and imperil women’s health and well-being, cost local economies $105 billion per year and suppress economic growth.

Protecting the right to safe and legal abortion ensures that women have the freedom to make the right decision for themselves and their families. And evidence clearly shows what people facing this difficult decision already know: Whether to have an abortion has far-reaching economic consequences. That is why it is best left up to the individuals to make the decision that is right for them, their families, and their futures.

Congressman Don Beyer represents the 8th District in Congress.