Paying the Price for the End of Roe

Economics Rights Supreme Court

            New Orleans      Among the many confounding disconnects is the pretense of some justices, certainly Brett Kavanagh is among them, that their decision on Roe v. Wade would settle matters and, unbelievably, restore “credibility” in the Supreme Court.  This has to be among the most specious claims ever made in a Court concurring opinion.  Evidence of this bit of mystical thinking is abundant, but the various, wildly competing claims, about how it would harm or advantage women economically have to be right up there near the top of the list.  It’s also a kind of warning sign about science, and certainly economics, when infected by politics, religion, and the ideologies that come with both.

Various parties are allowed to file amicus or friends of the court briefs before the Supreme Court.  The justices could easily play pick-and-choose over the offerings since they were so divergent.

Oft cited research since the 1970s found that legalization via Roe had positive economic outcomes for women, offering more education opportunities and employment prospects.  Economists for upholding Roe cited statistics indicating a reduction of teen motherhood by 34% and teen marriage by 20%, both of which made women more likely to attend college and move up the work ladders.  An earlier economist, who won a Nobel prize for his work, found that “in states that had liberalized their abortion law before Roe, Black teen women experienced declines of more than 4% in childbearing and out-of-wedlock birth, with associated increases in schooling and education.”

Sounds right.  Sounds good!

Anti-abortion researchers filed briefs with the contested claim that, oh, no, “Legalization, they argued, coincided with more women falling into poverty, women reporting lower levels of happiness in surveys and fewer women saying they were in satisfying long-term relationships.”  I’m not an economist, but I’m at least as smart as the average bear, so I can see why it would matter, if in fact it were true, that more women fell into poverty, because that would discount the pro-choice argument about more education and better jobs potentially, but how could happiness and relationship satisfaction be either directly economic or isolated to whether or not they had or didn’t have the choice about abortion?  Indeed, the pro-choice economists countered not on the grounds of my head scratching, but on education and employment statistics.

A key piece of research has been done by Professor Caitlin Meyers of Middlebury College on the impact of the 2013 restrictions imposed in Texas that shut down many clinics.  She found that “when the distance a woman would have to travel to the nearest abortion clinic rose from under 50 miles to between 50 and 100 miles, abortion rates fell by 16%.”  From her research, she “estimates that in the first year after overturning Roe, about 100,000 women nationwide who wanted the procedure would be unable to reach an abortion clinic.”  These women would be young, poor, and likely living in the South or Midwest.

An opponent argues this doesn’t work, because the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t consider the unborn.  Where is that study?  It’s hard enough for actuaries to figure costs over a lifetime for losing limbs and other injuries.  How are economists weighing the change in income for the mother who is denied an abortion versus the economic value of the unborn child?  I can’t imagine what that control group would be of the born vs. the unborn, even if it will be all too easy to calculate what happens to women in some states with choice versus others now without it.

The bottom line is painful.  Magical and ideological thinking is now over.  In coming years, we now have a tragic control group of women and children in competing states in our divided country.  Economists are no help in making the decision, but when these results come in there will no longer be confusion on the data or the facts.