Yellen: Overturning Roe v. Wade would ‘have very damaging effects on the economy’ and ‘set women back decades’

May 10, 2022, 4:17 PM UTC

Women—and the U.S. economy—would suffer if access to abortion is limited, says Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“I believe that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades,” Yellen told lawmakers during a Senate Banking committee hearing Tuesday.

Yellen’s comments come just over a week after Politico published a leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in which the conservative majority appears set to overrule Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The draft’s authenticity was later confirmed by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The case has not been settled yet, and the official decision is expected in June or July. But Yellen’s assessment of the ramifications of overturning Roe—she went on to say that abortion access led to an increase in women’s labor force participation and educational attainment—is backed by decades of economic research.

In fact, over 150 economists filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court citing that research during arguments for Dobbs last fall. In the case, one of the arguments made by the state of Mississippi is that the constitutional right to abortion established under Roe—and reaffirmed under Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992—is no longer necessary because women have made great economic strides over the past five decades.

But economists said those career- and finance-based arguments do not hold water.

For one, abortion access has been shown to greatly reduce the number of teen pregnancies, having ripple effects throughout a woman’s life. As Yellen noted, women’s education levels, labor force participation, and future earnings increase, while teenaged marriages and infant mortality decrease, the research has found.

Other research shows that women who are denied access to an abortion are more likely to live in poverty and are less likely to be fully employed, relative to women who have received an abortion. Take away these rights, and all this economic progress is at risk of reversing at a time when the country is facing a labor shortage and employers are struggling to fill open roles.

And if Roe is overturned, low-income women will be hit especially hard: Single households earning approximately $11,200 per year or less are more than five times as likely as those earning over $44,700 per year to experience unplanned pregnancy, according to the Brookings Institute.

Beyond the economic effects, other research has shown that pregnancy-related deaths rise substantially when abortion access is restricted. A separate 2017 study found that states that had restricted abortion access had a maternal death rate nearly double that of states that did not.

Further research shows that abortion access reduces cases of child neglect and abuse as well as the number of children living in poverty.

In response to the leak, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), will hold a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act this week, which would codify the right to an abortion into federal law. It will almost certainly not pass in the evenly divided Senate.

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