Column: Reproductive freedom has always been an economic issue

November 7, 2022 3:03 am

Demonstrators hold banners in an abortion rights rally outside of the Supreme Court as the justices hear oral arguments in the June Medical Services v. Russo case on March 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. | Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

New research from the Michigan League for Public Policy illustrates that the economic costs to women of restricting abortion access are great.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s July decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization upended nearly 50 years of protection under Roe ensuring the right to access abortion care. This right was immediately threatened as states began introducing legislative restrictions on abortion and enforcing “trigger bans,” laws in state constitutions set to take effect in the event Roe was overturned.

Michiganders also face uncertainty over a 1931 abortion ban which is still being litigated. During this year’s midterm elections, Michigan is one of three states where voters will decide whether to amend the state Constitution to establish an explicit right to abortion. 

As we draw nearer to Tuesday’s election, countless polls have debated which issue will be at the forefront of voters’ minds when they cast their ballots — the economy or abortion. But we know that for women throughout the state, the two are inextricably linked. 

Reproductive health care is an economic issue for women. Nearly one in six pregnancies in Michigan ends in an abortion, but the vast majority – 96.8% of abortions – are not covered by insurance. At the same time, many families with children struggle to afford housing and childcare.

Access to reproductive health care and the ability to make decisions about family planning impact an individual’s ability to remain in the workforce, pursue higher education and demand higher wages. Women especially face difficult choices about when to tell their employer about a pregnancy, whether to continue working after giving birth and how to navigate a disjointed child care system. 

Pregnant workers often need small accommodations during the workday, such as more bathroom breaks, schedule changes for prenatal visits, less lifting or more sitting. Not all pregnant people needing accommodations at work request them, but those who do are often denied or, in many cases, are dismissed

Despite the prohibition established under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, discrimination targeting pregnant people continues to be widespread. Charges of pregnancy discrimination are disproportionately high among Black women, who account for only 14% of the female labor force but 37% of such complaints. 

The situation does not improve after giving birth, at which point mothers may be passed over for promotion, experience an unwanted reduction in hours or responsibility or loss of pay. 

While women are routinely paid less, earning just 73 cents for every dollar earned by a white man, the wage gap is even worse for working mothers, who are typically paid just 58 cents for every dollar earned by a working father. That adds up to a wage gap of $1,417 every month for mothers working full-time, year-round, and those lost wages go up significantly for mothers of color. 

Working women also face additional responsibilities, as married and partnered women continue to take on more of the home production and child care work compared to men. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified these differences, driving women out of the workforce as they took on more responsibilities at home. One survey found that more than half of mothers who quit their job during the pandemic attributed their decision to school or child care closures. 

Reproductive health care is not just about the right to privacy, personal freedom or compassion for pregnant people; it’s also about ensuring economic well-being for women, children and families across the state. 

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