WASHINGTON — New restrictions on abortion access would burden the economy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Tuesday.
“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 testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee.
A leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court revealed last week that the justices are poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 precedent that legalized abortion nationwide. The court confirmed the authenticity of the opinion but said it’s not final.
Yellen’s testimony offered a reminder that overturning Roe would have massive consequences for people’s lives — and, by extension, the U.S. economy.
“Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor force participation and enabled many women to finish school. That increased their earning potential,” Yellen said in response to a question from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “It allowed women to plan and balance their families and careers. And research also shows that it has a favorable impact on the well-being and earnings of children.”
“One aspect of the satisfying life is being able to feel that you have the financial resources to raise a child, that the children you bring into the world are wanted, and you have the ability to take care of them.”
If the court ultimately does abandon its precedents on abortion, it could upset the course of midterm elections that Republicans have been heavily favored to win.
If finalized, the court’s opinion would not itself ban abortion, but it would allow states to do so. Twenty-six Republican-led states are certain or likely to outlaw abortion if the court overturns Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, including 13 states that have “trigger” laws designed to take effect as soon as the court allows. Abortion would remain legal in other states.
“There are many research studies that have been done over the years looking at the economic impacts of access, or lack thereof, to abortion,” Yellen said. “It makes clear that denying women access to abortion increases their odds of living in poverty or need for public assistance.”
A 2021 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, for instance, found that abortion restrictions subtract $105 billion annually from the economy “by reducing women’s labor force participation and earnings and increasing turnover and time off from work among women ages 15 to 44 years.” Overall gross domestic product is more than $24 trillion.
Participating in the labor force means working or looking for work. The gap in participation between women and men narrowed dramatically during the 20th century, but gains for women slowed during the 1990s. Participation rates for mothers of young children are lower than overall rates for workers between the ages of 25 and 54.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he found Yellen’s comments troubling.
“I think people can disagree on the issue of being pro-life or pro-abortion, but in the end, I think framing it in the context of labor force participation — it just feels callous to me,” Scott said.
Yellen responded that she didn’t mean to sound harsh, but that reduced labor force participation is the spillover effect from not allowing women to control their bodies.
“What we are talking about is whether or not women will have the ability to regulate their reproductive situation in ways that will enable them to plan lives that are fulfilling and satisfying for them,” she said. “And one aspect of the satisfying life is being able to feel that you have the financial resources to raise a child, that the children you bring into the world are wanted, and you have the ability to take care of them.”