It turns out that reducing access to health care is bad for the economy.
It's no exaggeration to say that Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are fixated on abortion. As of mid-May, 549 abortion restrictions have been introduced in 47 states, and 69 restrictions have been enacted. That fixation doesn't just harm individuals seeking abortions. Studies show that restrictions on access to the full spectrum of reproductive health options can harm the overall health of a state.
A new study, conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, details the cost of abortion restrictions at the state level. The study categorized abortion restrictions into eight broad categories, covering everything from procedure bans, to restrictions on public funding, to mandatory waiting periods. The study then examined labor force participation and estimated that in an absence of abortion restrictions, approximately half a million women could enter the labor force and earn roughly $3 billion annually.
The group's research builds on that of the Turnaway Study, a 10-year examination of the consequences of having, or being denied, an abortion. That study found that people who couldn't access abortion were far more likely to leave the workforce and to have an income below the federal poverty level.
Waiting periods are especially insidious economically. They require people to take more than one day off work, once for the "counseling" appointment and once for the abortion procedure. These waiting periods can create additional trips, additional days off, additional childcare costs, and more. One 2019 study found that those waiting periods can increase the costs of an abortion by nearly $1,000. However, the study also looked at the cost to businesses of those multiple absences. It also examined turnover costs — how much businesses pay to replace people who get let go because they've taken time off for a medical issue.
This study echoes the findings of a 2020 study from the same group that looked at the history of the birth control pill in America and found that better access to contraception positively affected economic outcomes for women in several ways. Young women who had access to birth control pills attained higher education at greater rates. Participation in the labor force is higher, in part because the pill allows people to delay childbirth and increase their time in the workforce if they wish to do so.
Similarly, a 2017 study from the Center for American Progress found that when people have better health care access and reproductive rights, they are more likely to feel able to transition between jobs or transition from unemployment into employment.
People also make choices about where they will live based on access to abortion. Over 50% of college-educated women said they wouldn't apply for a position in a state that banned abortion — an increasingly realistic possibility given the current composition of the U.S. Supreme Court.
As abortion restrictions increase at a feverish pace across the country, states must consider that the downstream effects of curtailing access can affect everyone, not just people who need abortions.