The Costs of Reproductive Health Restrictions

An Economic Case for Ending Harmful State Policies

Access to comprehensive reproductive health care is central to gender equity and women’s full participation in the workplace. For businesses, restrictions on access to reproductive health care are not only at odds with stated corporate values, such as equity and inclusion, they also affect the ability of companies to deliver on their value propositions.

In recent decades, a rise in state efforts to limit access to comprehensive reproductive health care has threatened women’s equality and participation in the workforce and put state and regional economies at risk. Between January 1st and April 29, 2021 alone, 536 abortion restrictions, including 146 abortion bans, were introduced across 46 states. Sixty-one of those restrictions have been enacted across 13 states, including eight bans. The effect of these restrictions is amplified by federal policies such as the Hyde Amendment, which limits the use of federal dollars for abortion. These measures fall hardest on women that already face systemic obstacles accessing health care and economic opportunities—including Black women, Hispanic women, low-income women, rural women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and more.  To date, the economic costs of these restrictions have not been fully articulated.

This new tool seeks to capture the costs of reproductive health restrictions at the state level.

Impact of Eliminating Abortion Restrictions on U.S. Labor Force Participation and Earnings Growth for Women Ages 15–44 by Race/Ethnicity

Black 1.279.92
Asian Pacific Islander (API).977.13

Ending Reproductive Health Restrictions: Good for Women, Good for Business

Women’s participation and advancement in the workforce is key to creating a positive business environment and spurring economic growth. Yet one critical factor in achieving workplace equality for women remains unaddressed: ensuring access to the full range of reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion. Businesses should use their voice and influence to support access to comprehensive reproductive health care for their employees, customers, and communities where they live and work.

IWPR’s new research finds that advancing restrictive reproductive health policies puts economies and business environments at unnecessary risk and limits women’s economic potential.

The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the U.S. economy, with women—especially women of color—bearing the brunt of the crisis. For women of color, a lack of access to affordable reproductive health care on top of existing racial and gender inequities hinders their ability to achieve economic security and fully participate in the economy. An equitable recovery from the “she-cession” will ensure that all women are empowered to make reproductive health choices that are in the best interest of themselves, their families, and their careers.

Because of systemic racism and other structural barriers, women of color are more likely to face challenges in accessing comprehensive reproductive health care. Disparities in health outcomes persist for women of color across a range of reproductive health issues—including maternal mortality, cancer screenings, and pregnancy protections in the workplace. Women of color are more likely than their White counterparts to be covered by Medicaid. This means they are disproportionately affected by the Hyde Amendment, which bans Medicaid coverage for abortion except in rare circumstances.

IWPR’s research estimates that ending all state-level abortion restrictions, which disproportionally burden women of color, would result in:

    • A larger positive impact on labor force participation for Black and Hispanic women ages 15 to 44
    • Significant earnings growth, with the greatest among Black working women ages 15 to 44

This increase in workforce participation and earnings will help foster economic growth while improving women’s equality and narrowing the wage gap for women of color.

Note: Disaggregated data is crucial for understanding the impacts of reproductive health restrictions on women of color. However, limitations in the underlying data currently prevents the presentation of reporting findings based on race and ethnicity for many states.

At the national level, IWPR estimates that state-level abortion restrictions cost state economies $105 billion dollars per year—by reducing labor force participation and earnings levels and increasing turnover and time off from work among women ages 15 to 44 years.

IWPR’s analysis estimates that, on a national scale, if all state-level abortion restrictions were eliminated:

  • An additional 505,000 women aged 15 to 44 would enter the labor force and earn about $3.0 billion dollars annually.
  • Currently employed women aged 15 to 44 would gain $101.8 billion in higher earnings annually.
  • The income of individual women aged 15 to 44 would be $1,610 higher—with an impact from $0 in Vermont to $2,879 in Nebraska.
  • National GDP would be nearly 0.5 percent greater—ranging from zero percent in Vermont to over one percent in Missouri.

Below you will find an interactive map.  Please navigate the map by clicking the state you wish to learn more about and then select the “view state data” button to see detailed data and statistics.

Total Economic Losses due to State-level Abortion Restrictions, Women aged 15–44 (2020, in $)

Increase in State GDP if all State-level Restrictive Abortion Policies were Eliminated, Women ages 15-44

Increase in State Labor Force if all State-level Restrictive Abortion Policies were Eliminated, Women ages 15-44

View The Guttmacher Institute State Legislation Tracker

Towards Reproductive Justice

Efforts to improve access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception, must always prioritize the autonomy and health of women. The United States has a long and well-documented history of reproductive coercion targeting women of color, poor women, women with disabilities, and other marginalized groups. Promoting abortion, contraception, or sterilization over the desires or health needs of women is never justified—whether for economic reasons or otherwise.

This tool is meant to support the ongoing work of reproductive justice advocates and emphasize areas in which reproductive justice goals align with those of business leaders and policymakers focused on economic growth.

IWPR’s analysis is largely based on survey data where respondents self-identified within the binary choice: male and female. This digital tool uses the term “women” to describe people who self-identified as female and assumes that these individuals are directly affected by restrictions on access to reproductive health care. IWPR acknowledges that not all people who can become pregnant identify as women, including transgender and gender nonconforming individuals. The tool’s use of the term “women” reflects an absence of underlying data on gender identity and transgender status. An additional limitation of the data used for this macro-level analysis is the absence of information on respondent’s fecundity, reproductive behaviors, and fertility intentions.

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