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Restricting abortion is bad for the economy

A close-up picture of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a US Court of Appeals Seventh Circuit Judge, in front of an American flag during the presidential announcement event.
REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Her stance on abortion matters to the economy.
  • Karen Ho
By Karen Ho

Global finance and economics reporter

Published Last updated

Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett could give conservative justices enough votes to restrict abortion rights—a real possibility if she’s confirmed, given there are more than a dozen cases related to state-level abortion access only a step away from the court.

US senators poring over her abortion record ahead of her confirmation hearing would do well to consider the implications of that outcome for the economy.

Research consistently shows when a young girl or woman wants an abortion and can’t get one, there is a massive cumulative loss in education and work opportunities, income, and their mental health. These losses compound and work their way through the economy as a whole. 

Here’s how a rollback of abortion rights would make the US less productive:

It crashes educations

Not being able to have an abortion can derail the career of a teen girl by severely interrupting her education, which can limit her career choices and bring down her income potential for the rest of her life. Teen girls who give birth before the age of 19 significantly reduce their chances of completing high school, from nearly 90% down to slightly more than 50%, according to a 2010 report by Child Trends, a non-partisan research organization that looked at a national sample of nearly 9,000 youth over a 10-year period. 

Because educational attainment is so closely tied to income earnings in the US, girls who can’t have an abortion are more likely to end up in a low-skilled job and contribute less to the economy in general. They will pay less income taxes, spend and save less, and likely need more social assistance. 

It perpetuates poverty 

Women who get denied an abortion are more likely to be poor, young, and unemployed than women who have access to that medical service, according to a study published in 2018 in the American Journal of Public Health, a peer-reviewed health policy publication. That leaves them with fewer options to handle the burdens of raising a child, which they often have to do alone, according to the researchers. Six months after being denied abortion services, these women were still less likely to have a job than the women who were able to get an abortion, the study found. 

“Economic hardship comes not from being denied an abortion itself but from carrying the unwanted pregnancy to term,” the researchers wrote.

And just as they miss out on opportunities by leaving school to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, women who drop out of the workforce for the same reason lose potential lifetime earnings, savings, and wealth, lowering their contributions to the overall economy.

It drains productivity 

Women denied abortions experience lower life satisfaction, lower self-esteem, and higher rates of anxiety compared with people who receive the service, according to a 2017 peer-reviewed study in JAMA Psychiatry, a journal published by the American Medical Association. Women denied abortions were also much more likely to have depression immediately after birth and throughout their children’s lives, according a 2016 study published in AJPH. 

This has real costs on their economic well-being—and that of the whole economy. In general, the economic cost of depression in the US in 2010 was estimated to be $210.5 billion due to medical expenses, lost productivity, and suicide, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. People can’t work or contribute to the economy if they are getting in-patient and out-patient medical services, calling in sick, or dead.

Policies restricting abortion can have other fatal consequences. About 7% to 9% of maternal deaths each year can be attributed to unsafe abortions, according to an analysis by the World Health Organization published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2014.

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