April 15, 2024

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made the economic case for keeping abortion access available in the U.S., as the Supreme Court prepares to release its decision on a Mississippi abortion case that could overturn the landmark decision in Roe v Wade that protects women’s right to an abortion. Yellen argued that restricting abortion access would hurt the U.S. economy. 

“I believe eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and set women back decades,” Yellen said in response to a question while testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday.

She went on to address the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision directly, stating that “access to reproductive health care including abortion helped lead to increased labor force participation. It enabled many women to finish school. That increased their earning potential. It allowed women to plan and balance their families and careers.”

Yellen’s remarks came after a draft majority opinion from the Supreme Court leaked ahead of the court’s release of it’s decision on the Mississippi case. It signaled the high court was preparing to overturn the 50-year precedent protecting the right of women to have an abortion. 

Republicans in the hearing immediately took issue with tying access to abortion to the economy. But in an exchange with Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, Yellen said she did not mean to be harsh, but was simply speaking the truth.

“What we’re 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. 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 that you have the ability to take care of them,” Yellen said. 

Research over the past 30 years has shown having legal accessible abortion in the U.S. has increased women’s educational attainment and job opportunities.

Yellen noted that in many cases, abortions have been an option for teenaged women, “particularly low-income and often Black, who aren’t in a position to be able to care for children, who have unexpected pregnancies.” Not having that option, she said, “deprives them of the ability often to continue their education, to later participate in the workforce. So, there is a spillover into labor force participation.”

Yellen said the children will grow up in poverty and do worse themselves. 

Scott told Yellen, “I think people 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 is — it just feels callous to me.” 

“I’ll just simply say that as a guy raised by a Black woman in abject poverty, I am thankful to be here as a United States Senator,” Scott also said. 

He went on to suggest there could be a conversation about increasing child tax credits, child care and early childhood education, saying there are “a lot of ways for us to address the issue about the child that’s here.”

The possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned has drawn renewed attention to the lack of support for women having children. Of the 26 states certain or likely to ban abortion, should the decision be overturned, according to the Guttmacher Insitutute, not one offers paid family leave. And several opted out of expanding Medicaid. 

Last year, Democrats attempted to extend monthly Child Tax Credit payments for families with children, implement affordable child care and create a federal paid family leave program as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. The legislation passed with Democrats’ support in the House but was blocked in the Senate, with opposition from every Senate Republican and Senator Joe Manchin. 

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