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At What Cost: Why Abortion Access Is Critical For Closing the Gender Wealth Gap



by Kelly Sheard, Director of the Gender Wealth Institute

At first glance, the topics of economic well-being for women and abortion access seem like strange bed fellows. What, if anything, do they have to do with each other? And furthermore, as an organization dedicated to the advancement of women and girls, why is parsing out this connection important?

The economic system has an enormous impact on the structures of society. It is worth examining how the norms, laws and relationships of the economic system impact women’s ability to participate, and to what extent. It is also important to explore the stories we tell about the system, who is important and why. In the US, this is complicated by our dogged adherence to white supremacy as an organizing framework. Indeed, the original, enormously profitable mode of production in the economy was racialized chattel slavery. Furthermore, capitalism functioned to strengthen and reinforce the reproductive role of women, be it voluntary or forced. With this history, it is critical that we unpack the economic impact of restricting abortions today. In a nation built off the economy of black bodies and the forced reproductive labor of black women in particular, it is a horrifying consequence that decisions about bodily autonomy will continue to be made in service to the interests of the powerful.

More recently, the news cycle has been dominated by the overturning of Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court. The decision asserted that the right to abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right, and each state can decide how they want to provide or deny access to abortion.

Typically when discussing restrictions on abortion access, conversations center on issues of bodily autonomy or governmental interference. You might hear people using slogans such as “Hands off my body!”, asserting the right to make critical decisions about their health and body without the fetters of policy. And while notions of agency and choice are significant, our main question seeks to explore only the economic effects of restricting abortion access. When agency is restricted and choice is denied, how are women impacted in economic terms? Is there a contributory connection between abortion access and women’s participation in the economy? Furthermore, does the link matter so much that the right to abortion need to be federally protected?

While economists vary on their interpretations of many economic considerations- the nature of the market, the true nature of capitalism, the system’s connection to poverty- they are in rare and complete agreement on abortion access and the economic impact on women. It turns out; whether, when and under what circumstances a woman becomes a mother profoundly affects her economic life. You can see this impact reflected in everything from educational attainment, labor force participation, earnings and even marriage patterns. The economic impacts are woven throughout each of these factors, and the impacts are decidedly negative. Even with other measures of progress, such as expanded contraception access, strides in college completion, equal pay law, even paid FMLA- women’s economic livelihoods and mobility are strongly linked to their ability to access abortions. When denied abortions, women are less likely to be employed full time. Because they are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, they experience increased financial distress through past due debt, bankruptcies and evictions. When women are able to delay motherhood through legal access to abortion, they are much more likely to finish college, pursue higher degrees, spend longer in the labor force and enter higher paying jobs.

If you are like me, the very term “economic” might make your eyes glaze over. Numbers, charts, graphs, statistics, oh my. However, any discussion about economics is ultimately a discussion about power. Who gets to have what? Who gets to do what? Who gets to decide? And even more importantly, the question becomes- why? If restricting abortion access makes little economic sense, why pursue restrictions at all?

As we continue the work to fight restrictions and expand the movement for true reproductive justice- beyond choice, including access to the material and social means to make a meaningful decisions- we will lift up the facts. Restricting abortion access thwarts any progress towards closing the gender wealth gap. Inequities and disparities will worsen in a time where economic precariousness is the reality for most women. When it comes to constricting the choices of women, the numbers are clear- we cannot afford it.

Further reading:

WOMEN’S WAY’s Closing the Gender Wealth Gap Forum: Intersections of Economic and Reproductive Justice

What Can Economic Research Tell us About the Effect of Abortion Access on Women’s Lives?

At a Crossroads: The Impact of Abortion Access on Future Economic Outcomes

Reproductive Justice: A Reading List




WOMEN’S WAY is the Greater Philadelphia region’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of women, girls, and gender equity.