Economists: Abortion protections will lead to better outcomes for Ohio women

Abortion rights will be on the ballot in November, and Ohio Republican politicians who oppose them are again trying to stack the deck. However, a majority of economists who were surveyed this month said that such rights will improve economic prospects for women — especially those who are poor.

After the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022 overturned the federal right to an abortion in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, a 2019 Ohio law took effect. It outlawed the vast majority of abortions after six weeks, including for victims of rape and incest. 

Horror stories quickly ensued, including of a 10-year-old rape victim, women who needed to start cancer treatment and others whose fetuses had severe birth defects and couldn’t be successfully carried to term. All had to travel out of state to get an abortion.

A judge paused the law while a legal challenge makes its way through the courts. 

And a constitutional amendment that would protect abortion rights will be on the November ballot. That comes after voters trounced a misleading attempt by Ohio Republican politicians to make it harder for voters to amend the state Constitution by a 14-point margin last month. Now abortion-rights supporters are suing many of those same Republicans, accusing those on the Ohio Ballot Board of “blatant inaccuracies” in the language they voted to put on the ballot.

But as the abortion debate has raged, there’s been a lot of focus on the medical implications of Ohio’s harsh restrictions and less on their economic impact on Ohio women of limited means.

Some data suggest that women have gotten abortions because they at least think they can’t support the child if the pregnancy is carried to term. In 2021, 61% of women who got abortions in Ohio already had children, while 32% did not and another 7% didn’t report that information, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

In addition, Black people make up about 14% of the state’s population, but they have a poverty rate of almost 28%, which is nearly three times the poverty rate among white people. Because of that, it’s perhaps not surprising that even though Black people make up only about one-seventh of the female population, in 2021 they got almost half of the abortions (49%.)

While it appears that many Ohio women get abortions on the calculation that they don’t have the resources to support another baby, most economists surveyed by the Columbus firm Scioto Analysis said they thought protecting abortion rights would help women’s economic outlook. They were asked whether they agreed that “Women from Ohio and neighboring states who receive abortion services will experience economic outcomes in the form of higher educational attainment, higher labor force participation, and higher wages.”

Thirteen of the 18 agreed they would. The others were uncertain.

“There is some good research showing that better economic outcomes do arise,” Robert Gitter of Ohio Wesleyan University said in the comments section of the survey. “It is generally lower-income women who cannot travel out-of-state that benefit economically from the availability of abortion services.”

Curtis Reynolds of Kent State University agreed.

“The research is clear that ability to control fertility is very important for all of these outcomes,” he said.

But one economist who was uncertain, Michael Jones of the University of Cincinnati, said the economic question was beside the point.

“Taking the life of an innocent baby is evil and immoral,” he said. “Framing this decision as an economic one shows the depravity of our society.”

Jonathan Aadreas of Bluffton University said such arguments illustrate why abortion is so fraught an issue.

“… the clear economic benefits to women of abortion are never going to be nearly big enough to convince anyone who thinks that abortion is murder to change their mind,” he wrote. “All other costs and benefits are trivial in comparison with the question of when the mere flesh of sperm and eggs become fully human.”


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