Here’s how the right to abortion is also an economic issue

This story was originally published by The 19th on May 4, 2022.

In a leaked draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito argued that pregnant women don’t actually need access to abortion to ensure their economic mobility — they already have it.

According to the notice, which was published by Politico on Monday evening, “single pregnant women” – Alito does not include all pregnant people in her view – now have access to protections against pregnancy-related discrimination, a “guaranteed” sick leave “in many cases” and medical expenses “covered by insurance or government assistance”.

READ MORE: Blacks and Hispanics have the most to lose if Roe is knocked down

These “modern developments” contradict the position of many economists and abortion rights advocates for decades, Alito wrote. In his opinion – which Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed was a real draft, but which was not the court’s official decision – Alito concludes that it is not for the Supreme Court to assess “the effect of the right to abortion on society and in particular on the lives of women.

But his argument ignores the significant limitations of the protections he lists and the enduring truth that the United States holds some of the worst records in the world for pregnancy and childbirth benefits, according to experts. Some of the items described by Alito in the notice are still under development. In other cases, they leave out some of the most vulnerable Americans.

The main point Alito seems to be making is that the country has made progress since 1973, when Roe v. Wade came into effect, guaranteeing the right to abortion until fetal viability. Alito suggests that progress negates the link between abortion access and economic justice. But experts on childcare, vacation pay and economics said his argument failed to capture how the protections codified into law over the past five decades still aren’t enough. The reasoning also contradicts another position of some self-proclaimed anti-abortion feminists, who believe that access to abortion has hindered the development of strong policies to support pregnant women and families.

In terms of pregnancy-related discrimination, a bill with bipartisan support recently passed the US House and is currently before the Senate to strengthen protections for pregnant women in the workplace. But this bill was introduced precisely because significant loopholes still exist, even though Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978.

On what Alito calls “guaranteed” family leave, the only workers who get leave close to the guarantee are the top 10% of earners in the country, 95% of whom have access to unpaid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 36% of those highest earners also get paid family leave, and those numbers drop dramatically for the lowest paid workers, mostly women of color: 79% got unpaid family leave and only 5% had paid family leave in 2020.

Medical costs for childbirth are also still high, even with insurance coverage: about $4,300 on average for vaginal births in 2015 and $5,200 for caesarean births, according to a large study of more than 600,000 women in the United States between 2008 and 2015 who had health insurance through their employer.

“The premise is wrong,” said Julie Kashen, senior researcher and director of women’s economic justice at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. “Even if we had access to paid family leave, childcare and insurance coverage for pregnancy and childbirth – even if we had all those things in place, which we don’t , the need for the right to abortion continues to exist.”

The United States ranks at the bottom of the list of advanced countries when it comes to investing in childcare, and it’s one of seven countries that doesn’t have a national paid vacation policy. Health care costs are so high in the United States, including for childbirth and pregnancy, that more than a third of American women reported skipping necessary medical care, the highest rate among eleven countries high-income earners, according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that provides health care research to vulnerable communities. (The study did not examine trans or non-binary people.)

It has long been proven that access to abortion and economic security have deep links. A landmark study that followed two groups of women over 10 years – one group who wanted an abortion and got one and one who wanted one but did not get the procedure – found that those who were denied a clinic abortion because they were too late in their pregnancies have sunk deeper into poverty.

The study, which did not examine outcomes for trans or gender-diverse people, identified lack of access to abortion as the turning point in women’s economic trajectories, in part because there was little political support at the federal level and in their workplaces to help them raise their children without facing financial hardship.

The past two pandemic years have crystallized how little support there is for pregnant women and parents – so little, in fact, that women left the workforce in unprecedented numbers at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis due to the lack of access to paid leave and childcare. In the wake of this exodus, policies to enact federal paid vacations and free pre-kindergarten have come as close to becoming a political reality as they have ever come in this country.

And yet, they did not pass.

Those most affected by the lack of these protections are the same group that will be affected by the lack of access to abortion: women and people of color.

“One of the things we need to remember is this narrative about abortion and who has access to abortion – we can’t forget that it’s about race and class,” said said Leng Leng Chancey, executive director of 9to5, a national organization that advocates for economic security for women of color.

LOOK: How Congress Could Use Its Power to Affect Abortion Law Nationwide

If Roe is ultimately overruled, as the draft advisory suggests, the decision on how to restrict abortion will be left to the states. Most of the states that have already passed abortion restrictions are in the South and Midwest, the same places that have higher concentrations of low-wage workers. It is these workers, mostly women of color, who will face the greatest barriers to abortion, who may not be able to travel to other states to have the procedure, and who may not have -not even have time to take time off from their work or their financial situation. leeway to consider this option.

Chancey said when she was pregnant with her first child, she earned $7.25 an hour working at a university and spent $150 a week on childcare. They had a caesarean section and returned to work less than 8 weeks after the operation.

“I was afraid of losing my job – who can access [unpaid family leave]? Nobody works for minimum wage, because you have to put food on the table,” they said.

Low-income people of color often cannot afford to be unemployed for long periods of time, but they are also more likely to be single parents and caregivers.

“We live in a nation that penalizes caregivers and caregiver responsibilities,” said Josephine Kalipeni, executive director of Family Values ​​@ Work, a national network of state and local coalitions working to pass workplace policies. work, including paid family leave. When she had an abortion while in college, part of the decision was driven by the fact that she was the eldest of six children, that she had to take care of her parents and that she was finishing her studies.

Kalipeni said she was working three jobs at the time, struggling to pay her tuition at the end of each semester.

“I had to think and weigh the cost knowing that my parents would have no inheritance to pass on to me in the future, that my financial well-being was as tied to theirs as their own independent finances were, and now thinking about disrupting my education, incurring the costs of having a child and having a child in the United States? There was absolutely no way I could have a child financially or emotionally,” Kaipeni said.

If Roe is unseated, groups like hers will only be emboldened to fight harder for Alito’s suggested policies that are already on the books, she said.

“It reinforces our work in its final terms, but I also think it reinforces our responsibility to talk about reimagining a democracy and an economy that works for all of us,” she said. “It becomes a unifying moment.”


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