Why overturning Roe vs Wade will hurt America

Jun 29, 2022 11:29 AM IST

How many women seek abortion in US? What does this rule mean for them? What will be the economic consequences? Is the impact similar across 51 US states?

New Delhi: America is split down the middle after the US Supreme Court struck down on June 24 the 1973 Roe vs Wade ruling that recognised American women’s constitutional right to abortion. The regressive politics of the verdict aside, there are going to be serious consequences of criminalisation of abortions in the US.


How many women seek abortion in US? What does this rule mean for them? What will be the economic consequences? Is the impact similar across 51 US states (including the District of Columbia)?

An HT analysis based on government statistics and private research has tried to answer some of these questions.

How many women seek abortion in US?

Data from US government’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that about 630,000 legal abortions took place in 2019 in US, while New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a research organisation advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, puts the same figure at 930,000. These numbers have been much higher in the past. The number of legal abortions in the US was highest at 1.4 million and 1.6 million in 1990, as per data from CDC and Guttmacher respectively.

The CDC and Guttmacher figures on number of abortions vary because these two datasets collect and report numbers differently. While CDC puts together this number from central health agencies of most US states only on voluntary basis, Guttmacher contacts every known provider of abortions to compile data and uses estimates in cases when any state fails to report. For example, the CDC data for 2019 does not have numbers for states such as California, Maryland, and New Hampshire. To be sure, even the Guttmacher figures on abortion far from reflecting the true state of abortions in US since it cannot capture the number of illegal or unsafe abortions.

The federal ban on abortion has come at a time when abortion rates -- a better indicator to know how likely a woman in the reproductive age (15 to 44 years) is to have an abortion -- have risen in recent years, putting more lives of American women at the risk of seeking illegal abortions. While Guttmacher data shows a rise to 14.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2020 from 13.5 in 2017, CDC shows a rise to 11.4 in 2019 from 11.2 in 2017.

Who will be hit the most?

While the overturning of Roe vs Wade is anti-women in general, a look at the 2019 CDC data on demographics of women who underwent abortions reveals that some social groups will bear a disproportionate brunt of the ban. An average non-Hispanic black women in her 20s, who is unmarried and intends to abort for the first time, will be hit the hardest, the data shows. Data from CDC shows 85.5% of women who had legal abortions were unmarried in 2019. In terms of age, 57% of women who had legal abortions were in their 20s, while 30% were in their 30s in 2019. In terms of ethnicity, Non-Hispanic black women had the highest abortion rate of 23.8 abortions per 1,000 women in 2019, while it was 6.6 and 11.7 for women of non-Hispanic white and Hispanic origin respectively. More than half (58.2%) the women went through abortion for the first time, while 23.8% had one abortion previously in 2019.

What does this ruling mean for women in labour market?

Unplanned motherhood can derail a woman’s professional career. Women who were able to delay motherhood through legal access to abortion are much more likely to finish college, pursue higher degrees, spend longer in the labour force, and enter higher-paying occupations, thereby much less likely to fall into poverty later in life, argued 154 economists who submitted a legal document to the Supreme Court (https://bit.ly/3njUqcO). Abortion legalisation “reduced the number of teenage mothers by a third, and that of women who got married as teenagers by a fifth”, especially among young women and black women, the statement argued.

The legalisation of abortion in the seventies dramatically reduced gender inequalities and uplifted women’s lives. The proportion of women who take part in US labour markets in comparison to men, has significantly improved to 83% in 2021, from 56.7% in 1973, shows World Bank data

Poor Americans are likely to suffer more

To be sure, the overturning of Roe vs Wade does not mean that abortions will become illegal in all of US. What the latest verdict does is that it leaves the decision to state governments. Abortion is now legal in at least 16 states and the District of Columbia, reported Bloomberg article on June 24. Once the state laws take effect, US will see a closure of “more than a quarter of 790 abortion clinics” across 26 states, as per estimates from a June study by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (https://bit.ly/3u6A4HK). And so, women in those states would have to travel an average of 276 miles each way to access the abortion clinics in states where it is still legal, as per Bloomberg News’s calculations based on Guttmacher data. This will also entail a financial burden.

Get Latest India Newsalong with Latest Newsand Top Headlinesfrom India and around the world.

Enjoy unlimited digital access with HT Premium

Subscribe Now to continue reading
Story Saved
Live Score
Saved Articles
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, June 09, 2023
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals