Last week, POLITICO acquired and published a draft majority opinion written by Justice Alito revealing that the Supreme Court has voted to strike down the Roe v. Wade decision. Roe v. Wade is, of course, the Supreme Court precedent that pregnant women have a constitutional right to abortion access. Now, just to be totally clear: reversing Roe v. Wade wouldn’t mean a nationwide abortion ban. Instead, it will be up to individual state governments to set their own states’ legislation on abortion access. So while it will not be impossible to have an abortion in the United States if Roe is overturned, it is certain that at least 18 states will ban abortion.
Of course, I understand that this is a very contentious and heavy issue. Often this topic gets shoehorned into a partisan argument: pro-life Republicans versus pro-choice Democrats. But I want to bring in a perspective that transcends politics: financial freedom. There are important financial implications of reversing Roe v. Wade— and those implications rarely make headlines, but I want to make space for them here.
You may have heard this from me before, but it’s worth repeating: my goal with my reporting has always been to foster open dialogue. I’ll share with you today how I’m thinking about this Supreme Court decision, and you may disagree with me— and that’s okay. This is a complicated conversation, but it is a conversation— and we could all stand to be better listeners. Myself included. So if you take the time to listen to my perspective today, I would love to do the same for you, so share your thoughts in the comments below.
The major pro-life argument is, of course, to protect the sanctity of life; but there’s more to protecting life than letting it exist. If women have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, how is the government going to make sure that women can take care of these children? Because right now, there is very little aid for parents to shoulder the enormous costs of childcare in the United States. And the financial burden becomes heavy as soon as the baby is born.
For example, up until this January, my podcast producer's company did not give employees any paid parental leave. So if my producer were to have a baby, the only way she would be able to take some paid time off with her newborn, would be to go on disability leave. This is not the precedent in other developed countries. In Europe, most people get four months paid parental leave. So how can U.S. government officials talk about the sanctity of life, but also look the other way when women are forced to classify that new life as a disability in order to put food on the table?
And it doesn’t get any easier. According to the American Progress Organization, the primary public federal funding source for childcare is the Child Care and Development Fund. This program provides funds intended to help eligible families access childcare through subsidy vouchers. However, this program is extremely underfunded and only reaches 1 in 7 eligible children, and many families who need support paying for childcare don’t even meet the eligibility criteria. For example, a family of three with an annual income above $32,580 would not qualify for assistance in 13 states.
Even if a woman plans on putting the baby up for adoption, the costs start rolling in way before the baby is born. All throughout her pregnancy, a woman will need to pay for doctor’s visits, transportation to those doctor’s visits, medicine, maternity clothes, the expenses go on and on.
Beyond the sanctity of life, you also hear pro-life folks talk about the potential of the child born from an unwanted pregnancy— I hear people say often: “maybe that child would go on to cure cancer.” If the government wants to empower the next generation to take on complex problems like curing cancer, will the government also make higher education less expensive? Because as of right now, the government hasn’t been able to alleviate student debt for the 43.4 million people who have a total of 1.7 trillion dollars in federal student loan debt.
And I’m not making up scenarios for the sake of argument; women with unwanted pregnancies do need financial help. The Turnaway Study, the largest study on women being denied access to abortions, found that women who carry an unwanted pregnancy to term have four times greater odds of living below the federal poverty line. The study also found that carrying an unwanted pregnancy led to adverse economic outcomes, like lower credit scores, increased debt and increased instances of negative public financial records, such as bankruptcies and evictions.
Being faced suddenly with the unexpected costs of caring for a child (often ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars) could put someone’s life on hold. If a woman gets pregnant while in school, she may need to drop out to work full-time in order to cover childcare costs. Without an advanced degree, she may be forced to take lower-paying jobs and get stuck under the glass ceiling.
This has a ripple effect across the national economy. If governments put women into positions where they can’t follow their career aspirations because of an unwanted pregnancy, the government is essentially stunting the growth of half of the population. That woman who had to drop out of school to find a job? Maybe she’s the scientist who could have cured cancer.
And these realities will be harsher for women of color, and/or in low-income jobs. Women with money or privilege, or both, will always be able to get an abortion. But increasing restrictions on reproductive health jack up the cost of abortion access, which pushes options further out-of-reach for low-income women.
But the effects go beyond financial implications. The Turnaway study also found that women were more likely to experience serious complications from the end of pregnancy, including death, if they were denied abortions. Also, women carrying unwanted pregnancies are more likely to stay with abusive partners, because it is much more difficult to separate from a partner once a child is involved.
The study also finds that the children born from unwanted pregnancies are negatively affected, too. These children report feeling less bonded with their mothers than children from planned pregnancies.
It is my firm belief that women should have the right to make this decision for themselves. To those who think this choice is another form of birth control: it is not. Being pro-choice doesn’t mean you’re pro-abortion. No one is pro-abortion. If a woman does not feel that she is in a position to be a good mother, I respect that woman’s thoughtfulness. As someone who had a very difficult childhood, I can say from personal experience that if someone is not ready to be a parent, life at home becomes difficult and even, in my case, traumatic. I also stand as an ally to sexual assault survivors and recognize that an important part of the healing process after a sexual assault, is for survivors to regain a feeling of power over their bodies.
I had a miscarriage last year, so I know all about the sanctity of life. And yet, I am still pro-choice. Because choice is power. And when that right to choose is taken away, women lose autonomy over their bodies, autonomy over their finances, and autonomy over their dreams.
I have made my whole career about championing the financial rights of people who didn’t grow up with the Wall St Journal on their kitchen table, and the data on this issue are clear: when women are denied access to abortion, their financial freedom is taken away.
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