Business Insider, by Paul Constant, 26 February 2022
When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in December for and against a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Justice Amy Coney Barrett seemed confused why lawyers arguing for legal abortion, as she put it, “focus on the ways in which forced parenting, forced motherhood, would hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities”.
Justice Barrett asked the lawyers, “Why don’t the safe-haven laws [in which any mother can give up her new baby to the state for adoption, no questions asked] take care of that problem?”
That’s an astonishingly naive question from a Supreme Court Justice who could cast a deciding vote against safe and legal abortion as the law of the land in America. Forcing a woman to carry her pregnancy to term and give birth is a tremendous emotional, physical, and economical burden, and safe-haven laws do nothing to resolve that burden.
When lawmakers and judges outlaw abortion, they immediately erase a wide array of options for the estimated one in four women who have an abortion in their lifetimes. As Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College, wrote in the Washington Post a few days before Barrett asked her question about safe havens, “Access to abortion has been found to increase women’s educational attainment, labour force participation, entrance into professional occupations and earnings, and to decrease financial stress and poverty for women and their families.”
Likewise, the data show that bans on abortion increase economic misery. Myers cites a study which found women who were denied access to abortion clinics through state and local regulations like Texas’s six-week ban experienced an increase in “bankruptcies, evictions, and other court judgments” compared to women who were provided abortions.
Myers joined the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast this week to discuss the economics of motherhood and abortion. In the USA, women earn about 84 cents for every dollar men earn. Myers says this gap increases when kids enter the equation. “If you look at the earnings trajectories of men and women prior to the point at which they might become parents, they look a lot more similar,” she said. “Women’s earnings are a lot closer to men’s, and this is true in the United States and other developed countries. It’s the moment they become parents that their earnings dramatically diverge,” Myers said. “In fact, almost nothing happens to men’s earnings at the time they become a father.
It’s harder to be a mother in the United States than it is in other developed countries. As the only wealthy country in the world with no guaranteed paid parental leave, American mothers are financially penalized for having and caring for children. Compared to other developed countries, families in poverty are more likely to fall behind and stay behind in the United States than elsewhere in the world.
We have a recent, real-world example of the unequal economic costs of motherhood in the pandemic: When schools and daycare centres around the country shuttered in the early days of the pandemic, women suffered economically much more than men. About one million more women left work during the first 10 months of the pandemic than men, in part because women still do the majority of child-rearing in the average American household. Female employment still hasn’t bounced back from the pandemic at the same rate as male employment. Those pandemic numbers were even worse when taking race and class into account: Women of color saw higher unemployment rates than white women, and poor women were much more likely to lose their jobs than rich women.
Those class lines show up in abortion studies, too. A recent survey cited in Brookings found that nearly half of all abortion patients were below the poverty line, nearly six in 10 were already mothers to at least one child, and more than half were in some form of economic distress, including potential job losses or a housing crisis.
Government officials like Barrett are denying the central truth about making abortion illegal: it’s all about power. Abortion bans remove autonomy and options from women, rolling back hard-fought freedoms and re-establishing a controlling power structure that conservatives have longed to restore for decades.
By diminishing women’s economic power, abortion bans exclude women from fully participating in their own lives and in the economy, keeping them politically and economically dependent on men for their survival. The abortion bans these leaders pass force women to have children, and then those same leaders deny financial support for the same women their laws have hurt, leaving the women and future generations in ever-worsening cycles of poverty and exclusion.
VISUAL: New York Times, photo by Erin Schaff/New York Times, 14 October 2020