Friday’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson effectively overruled Roe v. Wade, clearing the way for more than 26 states to ban abortion care. There will be countless negative implications of this devastating blow to bodily autonomy. But one of the most seismic, still neglected, will be the constraints on economic freedoms.
Bodily autonomy interacts with self-determination throughout society, including the economy.
Bodily autonomy interacts with self-determination throughout society, including the economy. When workers of any gender don’t have a voice or control over their lives, they’re also powerless in the labor market — and that can have a negative effect on the U.S. economy as a whole.
A amicus brief edited by Caitlin Knowles Myers of Middlebury College and signed by 154 economists, including myself, details how abortion care enhances economic security.
But to understand how, we must first recall how much the American economy has changed since the Roe judgment of 1973. The labor market has been undermined by stagnating wagesa drop good quality jobs and hampered economic growth as corporate power prioritized shareholder value and excessive profit rates. One of the main factors in these trends has been the precipitous loss of the labor force of the decline of unions and a weak social infrastructure that would provide workers with better outside options, such as adequate unemployment insurance, health care, and paid family and medical leave.
An economy where workers have no power is also plagued by market failures. The decline in worker power has exacerbated monopsony, where workers are paid less than the value they create. This then distorts the economy, as it suffers a deadweight loss and operates below its potential. In this way, giving workers more power over their lives and work is corrective; when the economy is balanced to empower workers, economic outcomes improve.
The link between bodily autonomy and economic opportunity is probably intuitive for anyone who might get pregnant. In the 49 years that women have had a legal right to abortion, they have had greater confidence and control over when and whether to start a family, which has enabled them to better participate in Economic Growth. Indeed, the planning of his family shapes the deployment of his skills and interests, and Studies show how the expansion of access to abortion in the 1970s was directly linked to rising levels of education, greater labor force participation, and higher incomes.
Conversely, state restrictions on abortion since Roe have limited people’s ability to make reproductive decisions. My own research examined how targeted restrictions on abortion providers, known as TRAP laws, had the opposite effect on women’s career paths. In states with TRAP laws, women are less likely to work in higher-paying jobs year over year, even after controlling for other factors such as education and local economic conditions. Not being able to change jobs is not only bad for workers and their families, but also for companies and the economy as a whole: a lack of dynamism can potentially reduce overall economic productivity in the event of poor talent allocation.
The leaked opinion attempted to argue that access to abortion has been detrimental to black communities. In addition to suppressing black women’s agency, this claim ignores that research shows otherwise.
Moreover, in a labor market marked by racial and gender discrimination, bodily autonomy is an economic issue of particular relevance to women of color. The leaked opinion attempted to argue that access to abortion has been detrimental to black communities. In addition to suppressing the agency of black women, this claim ignores that research shows the opposite: bodily autonomy is even more critical for black women and other women of color. For example, economists Kelly Jones and Marya Pineda-Torres found that living in a Rule of law TRAP before the age of 18 reduces the likelihood that black women will be able to start and complete a college degree, inevitably limiting opportunities for economic security.
Fortunately, the high-profile organizing campaigns now unfolding are increasingly shaping the economic debate. Unions have long been a powerful force in reducing economic disparities by gender and race; just an example This is how union membership is associated with supporting policies that improve social and economic conditions in Black communities.
Unions can continue this important tradition by centering reproductive rights in their work platforms to advocate for workers’ access to abortion care in their communities, with employer coverage. In a polarized post-Roe America, this is perhaps our best source of hope.