Jun 27, 2022 - Economy

Economic fallout of Dobbs ruling will hurt poor women most

What will happen immediately in each state now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned
Data: Axios research; Cartogram: Sara Wise and Oriana Gonzalez/Axios

Lower-income women will likely bear the brunt of Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the constitutional right to an abortion.

Why it matters: Though it may seem solely personal and political, abortion access is also an economic issue for women in the U.S., where they often face a steep wage and career penalty for becoming mothers.

  • In its majority opinion, the court did not substantively address any of the economic arguments in favor of keeping abortion legal — though these points garnered much attention in recent months.
  • Instead, the court said the notion that women need abortion access to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation — as held in Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey — was "intangible."
  • In their dissent, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan dispute that. "Above all others, women lacking financial resources will suffer from today’s decision," they write.

State of play: About 100,000 women who want abortions over the next year will likely not be able to get one due to financial and logistical constraints, Caitlin Knowles Myers, an economist at Middlebury College and a leading scholar on this issue, tells Axios.

  • She helped write an amicus brief, signed by 154 other economists, summarizing the economic scholarship linking Roe to women's social and financial advancement.
  • Most women in the states that now ban abortion will figure out a way to reach providers, Myers says. "About a quarter won't. Disproportionately they'll be the poorest and most vulnerable people. And this will severely impact their lives."

Probably the best hard data on the financial consequences of losing abortion access comes from a paper published in 2020, part of the Turnaway study.

  • The study uses credit reports to compare the financial outcomes of women who were able to access abortion to ones who were turned away from clinics because they were past the gestational cutoff; 68% of whom wound up giving birth.
  • The women who gave birth faced much higher rates of financial problems that persisted over the five-year period the researchers looked at — these included an increase in the amount of debt past due, bankruptcies and evictions.

The other side: Abortion opponents argued against those economic studies, calling them flawed and asserting that women's progress over the past half-century is due to other factors. Abortions hurt women, they say.

What to watch: The economic fallout won't just accrue to women, but to entire regions, noted Allison Schrager, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, in a column last month.

  • The 13 states where abortion is now illegal have average incomes lower than the national average. This ruling would likely mean "more inequality and less prosperity," she writes.

Go deeper: Overturning Roe could reverse economic gains

Go deeper