Abortion restrictions already cost the U.S. more than $100 billion. That number could now get much worse
With the right to an abortion in the U.S. likely to be overturned as soon as this summer, states that ban or heavily restrict the practice will negatively impact their own economies, with huge economic consequences for businesses and local governments that could cost them billions.
On Monday, Politico published a leaked draft of a Supreme Court ruling, which shows five justices voting to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that enshrined reproductive rights. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has since confirmed the draft as authentic.
But while anti-abortion advocates and politicians have cheered the decision, if the draft is finalized, states that subsequently ban or heavily restrict abortions will negatively impact their own economies, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a think tank that advocates for women from diverse backgrounds. The organization released a study in May 2021 estimating that current state-level abortion restrictions cost the U.S. about $105 billion annually due to reduced earning levels, increased job turnover, and time off for women between 15 and 44 years old. Now, if Roe is overturned, that cost will get much higher, something that people don’t often think about in abortion discussions, Nicole Mason, CEO of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told Fortune.
“There’s more to the story,” Mason said. “We can broaden our lens by talking about the economic impact it will have on women, communities, and businesses, and that cost is really clear.”
Abortion is still legal in all states, although some, like Texas and Mississippi, have restricted it to the point of an effective ban. If the Supreme Court issues a ruling on Roe with the way that the draft looks now, “trigger” laws will instantly ban abortion in 13 states, and over a dozen more are either certain or likely to institute their own bans and severe restrictions.
The IWPR estimated last year that that Mississippi, whose restrictive state abortion law is at the center of the Supreme Court case for which the leaked draft opinion was issued, could suffer from just over $1 billion in economic losses due to its abortion law, according to a 2021 IWPR report.
Those losses are related to drops in productivity and the loss of talent because of the people forced to carry their pregnancies to term who would not have chosen to otherwise. If all current state-level abortion restrictions were eliminated—not even considering a Roe reversal—the IWPR estimates that 505,000 more women of reproductive age would be in the workforce and earning about $3 billion annually. That money would contribute to everything from increased spending to increased taxable income.
If the Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe, businesses in states that institute outright bans or severely restrict abortion access will have a much harder time attracting talented female job prospects, according to Mason.
“The abortion restrictions are one part of a larger state culture that is not friendly or is hostile toward women, and so attracting top talent, women and families, it’s going to be really hard for some of the businesses in these states,” Mason said.
There may also be an exodus of businesses and women employees from those states, according to Mason. And the businesses that stay could face extra costs if they choose to compensate women employees for abortion-related costs.
Companies such as Apple, Amazon, and CitiGroup have already begun offering to cover travel and medical costs for employees who must travel to get an abortion because their state severely restricts the practice. But Mason told Fortune that picking up for the lack of reproductive rights is not the responsibility of companies.
“We shouldn’t be depending on the private sector to provide comprehensive health care services for women,” said Mason. “Unfortunately, that’s just the situation we find ourselves in.”
While larger companies step up and reimburse employees for abortion-related travel and medical expenses, women, especially women of color, who are overrepresented in low-paying hourly jobs, will be more at risk if they live in a state that chooses to ban abortions.
Large swaths of the South and Midwest would have no access to abortion if Roe is overturned, and 26 states would definitely or probably ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institutute, a global pro-choice research organization that focuses on sexual health and reproductive rights. People in many parts of the country were already forced to travel long distances and across state lines to access abortion medical care, but they will have to travel much farther if Roe is overturned. That will result in longer absences and lost wages for hourly workers, Mason said.
“You’re going to have to travel to states like New York or California to access services, which for many women will mean hopping on a plane, or taking two to three days or more off of work. So that increases their vulnerability in terms of their job security,” Mason said.
Sign up for the Fortune Features email list so you don’t miss our biggest features, exclusive interviews, and investigations.