Abortion Restrictions Cost Women, Businesses and States $105 Billion Each Year

Without abortion restrictions, the national GDP would be nearly half a percent greater.

Abortion Restrictions Cost Women, Businesses and States $105 Billion Each Year
A rally against abortion restrictions in Austin, Texas, in July 2013. (mirsasha / Flickr)

The Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health (CERH) at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) last week released ground-breaking research showing just how costly abortion restrictions are to women, businesses and the economy.

The bottom line is that state-level abortion restrictions cost the U.S. economy $105 billion per year by reducing women’s labor force participation and earnings and increasing turnover and time off from work among women ages 15 to 44 years. Without abortion restrictions, the national GDP would be nearly half a percent greater.

“When access is blocked, women face enormous economic losses,” said IWPR president and CEO C. Nicole Mason. “Up to this point, we just didn’t know how much. Our new research points to just how much the economic impact on women’s long-term earnings as well as the impact of these losses on the workplace.”

IWPR’s research accounted for a wide range of abortion restrictions, including TRAP laws, procedure bans, public funding restrictions, private insurance coverage limitations, provider refusal rules, mandated counseling, waiting periods, and required parental consent for minors.

If these state-level abortion restrictions were eliminated, women would have higher labor force participation rates and earn more money. An additional 505,000 women aged 15 to 44 would enter the labor force and they would earn about $3 billion annually. Currently employed women aged 15 to 44 would gain $101.8 billion in higher earnings annually. The income of individual women would on average increase by $1,610—varying from $0 in Vermont with no restrictions to $2,879 in Nebraska with many abortion restrictions.

Black and Hispanic women suffer the largest economic impact from state-level abortion restrictions amplified by the Hyde Amendment that limits the use of federal dollars for abortion. IWPR’s analysis shows that eliminating abortion restrictions would increase labor force growth of Black women by 1.27 percent and Hispanic women by 1.28 percent, compared to white women by 1.09 percent. This increase in workforce participation would narrow the wage gap for women of color and improve women’s equality.

IWPR’s research is critical at a time when states are passing an unprecedented number of abortion restrictions. In the first four months of 2021, state lawmakers introduced 536 abortion restrictions in 46 states and enacted 61 restrictions in 13 states. These restrictions will have devastating financial impacts on women and businesses.

Making the Economic Case for Reproductive Health Care Access

IWPR hopes reproductive justice advocates will use this research to “make the economic case” for opposing new abortion restrictions and repealing those already on the books. This strategy worked with gay marriage and some anti-transgender bathroom bills, and is now being used against voter suppression laws. The hope is business leaders and lawmakers will oppose abortion restrictions when they realize the negative impacts they have on businesses and the economy.

IWPR has made their research available as a web-based tool that provides state-level data on the economic impact of abortion restrictions. The tool has an interactive map of the U.S. where advocates can select their states to see:

  1. the total economic losses due to state-level abortion restrictions;
  2. the increase in state GDP if all state-level restrictive abortion policies were eliminated; and
  3. the increase in state labor force if all state-level restrictive abortion policies were eliminated.

The tool also provides charts for each state on

  1. how much the labor force size would increase in each state in the absence of abortion restrictions, broken down by race;
  2. the estimated earnings increase for employed women by race; and
  3. the total state earnings increase from a larger labor force in absence of abortion restrictions.

“This moment is a call to action. We want to make sure this tool is used far and wide,” said Mason.

On May 19, IWPR convened a three-part virtual event with experts to explain the research and how advocates can use it to engage elected officials and corporate leaders.

“One of the biggest things we can do to help the economy is help women enter the workforce,” said Jim Doyle, president of Business Forward, an organization that builds business support for public policies that promote America’s economic competitiveness. “Our business leaders see abortion rights as part of a suite of rights and services that families need if women are going to be able to enter the workforce, stay there and prosper like they should.”

Doyle explains how to make effective economic arguments for abortion rights: “Every state competes with every other state for investment and new jobs. What we recommend making arguments about economic opportunity and economic equality in a way that shows that we need to do this if we are going to continue to win this competition for investment and jobs.”

Another great resource for strategies to convince business leaders to support reproductive rights is a recently-published report Hidden Value: The Business Case for Reproductive Health—by Rhia Ventures, a women-led social impact investment firm focused on reproductive health. The report identifies actions that companies can take to support reproductive health care access.

Businesses over the years have spoken out on gay marriage, bathroom bills, and most recently on voter suppression, but there is dead silence on abortion rights, argues legal scholar Linda Greenhouse argues in her recent New York Times guest essay:

“I’m talking to you, Michael Dell, in your Dell Technologies executive suite outside Austin. I’m talking to you, American Airlines, in your new Fort Worth headquarters, and to you, Hewlett-Packard in Houston. All three companies voiced their opposition to voter suppression efforts. Who will speak up for your female customers and your female employees, now that the state where you’ve planted your corporate flag has decided to use them as bit players in a parody of politics?”

Greenhouse quotes Yale School of Management professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld speaking about what businesses should do about voter suppression laws and suggests his comments apply equally to abortion bans. “Some companies waffle, trying not to make enemies. You can’t get away with that anymore,” said Sonnenfeld. “Your silence is acquiescence; it’s a decision. You’re making a decision. Your silence is a decision. And when you recognize that, some of these issues are so salient and so critical that you have to take a position.”

IWPR’s research is an important tool for activists to persuade businesses to speak out against attacks on their employees’ and customers’ fundamental rights to bodily autonomy and reproductive control.

“We are in the fight of our lives at this moment,” said Mason. “Gains made over the past few decades are slipping away, leaving many women without access to the full range of reproductive health care services in states and communities across the country. The tool we’ve developed is another way to help us make a compelling argument about the need of women to access the full range of reproductive health options in their homes and in their communities.”

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.