“[Abortion] is not an issue easily distilled down to dollars and cents… In fact, it is rather dehumanizing!” 90-year-old Republican Senator Grassley exclaimed at the Senate Budget Committee hearing on February 28th, 2024 on the economic harms of restricting reproductive freedom. We disagree with the Senator – what’s dehumanizing is not discussing the very real economic impacts of restrictions on abortion and other reproductive healthcare, it’s the impacts of those restrictions on patients, doctors, and families that were the subject of Wednesday’s hearing. 

As much as we believe abortion access should be a simple question of health and rights, the reality is that for millions of women, issues of reproductive autonomy are not just tied to healthcare and freedom but also economic well-being. As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse stated, “Reproductive justice is economic justice.” Similarly, IWPR’s research finds that not only does reproductive healthcare have an impact on women’s economic well-being, but it also has a CAUSAL impact. Put simply, this means that there is a robust and clear line between the cause (reproductive rights) and effect (economic well-being).

 According to IWPR research, abortion restrictions have a detrimental cost on women’s health and education leading to disproportionate impacts on the national and state economy. IWPR’s analysis shows that restrictions on abortion cost the U.S. an average of $173 billion per year. On an individual level, abortion restrictions lower the likelihood a woman will graduate from school (both high school and college), lower her overall lifetime earnings, and ultimately lead to poorer outcomes for her children. Additionally, in states where abortion is banned, women work more hours per week, have a lower income, become mothers earlier, and give birth to more children. Access to abortion is especially important for economically vulnerable groups: denying abortion increases poverty among individuals. Conversely, reducing poverty can decrease the need for abortions.  

 While it is a deeply personal and individual decision to get an abortion, there are some common themes among many seeking out the procedure. Many cite financial and economic reasons. Most women who get an abortion are already mothers. This statistic, combined with the impact of abortion restrictions on women, clearly shows that bans are not “pro-family”, despite surface appearances. Additionally, most women who get an abortion are in their twenties, the decade when they are typically in school or just at the start of their careers. IWPR also reports that abortion access for Black women under the age of 24 increased individual earnings by $23,000 to $28,000 per year (75–100 percent) and family income by $48,000 to $52,000 per year.

In all, the panel of witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing testified on the economic impacts of abortions, further proving that the relationship between the two are not mutually exclusive, as demonstrated by numerous studies, like the ones highlighted in IWPR’s landscape analysis. For example, the National Bureau of Economic Research highlights that denying a person a wanted abortion creates lasting economic hardship and insecurity; increases single parenthood and contact with violent partners; and leads to more serious health problems due to the higher risks associated with birth than abortion. These hardships last for years after the denied abortion.

It is an unassailable fact that reproductive care is a fundamental part of healthcare. In a post-Dobbs world where women’s reproductive autonomy is stripped on a daily basis, it is imperative that policymakers intervene to protect women’s lives and wellbeing. In the face of ongoing congressional inaction to protect the right to access abortion nationwide, states must act to protect access to abortion and combat the wave of extremist efforts to repeal women’s basic rights to healthcare and reproductive autonomy. 

Beyond protecting access to abortion and other reproductive health care, policymakers can do more to ensure that women are able to decide to have children at the time that is right for them, without sacrificing their career and ability to support their family. Congress must also act to implement paid leave programs by passing paid leave policies that expand definitions of “family leave” to include pregnancy and birth related issues. It is shameful that the U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that does not provide federally mandated paid maternity leave. To further support women and families, policymakers must ensure that programs like SNAP, WIC, TANF, and Medicaid are available and accessible. The current direction of reversing women’s reproductive autonomy while simultaneously cutting social benefit programs leaves women with no social, political, or economic support and highlights the hypocrisy of controlling women’s bodies while hanging them out to dry.