By Andrew Keshner
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and hand abortion laws solely back to the states will exact a price on woman, diminishing their “opportunities to participate fully and equally in the nation’s political, social, and economic life,” according to a scathing dissent from the court’s liberal wing that dug into the financial implications of a post-Roe America.
Five decades after Roe v. Wade recognized a constitutional right to abortion, the conservative majority finished the 1973 decision on Friday, saying the court stepped beyond its role and wrongly interpreted a federal protection for abortion that didn’t exist when it authored Roe v. Wade and a second decision, the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” Justice Samuel Alito said in the majority opinion. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”
The dissenting justices, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, came out swinging against the majority’s legal reasoning, came out swinging against the majority’s legal reasoning, but also came down hard on the decision’s real-life consequences, particularly for low-income women.
The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization may have fully handed the power on abortion back to state legislators, the dissenting judges noted. But “that is cold comfort, of course, for the poor woman who cannot get the money to fly to a distant state for a procedure. Above all others, women lacking financial resources will suffer from today’s decision,” wrote Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan.
“After today, young women will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers had ,” they added.
At a different point, the dissenting judges said the consequences would depend on a women’s wealth.
“Some women, especially women of means, will find ways around the State’s assertion of power. Others — those without money or childcare or the ability to take time off from work — will not be so fortunate,” the dissent said.
These women may attempt an unsafe abortion or they may keep the child “but at significant personal or familial cost. At the least, they will incur the cost of losing control of their lives.” The mother would be raising the child in a country with the prospect of pregnancy discrimination and too little paid leave , especially for the lower end of the income ladder, they said.
Women living below the poverty line have unintended pregnancies at five times the rate of richer women or those earning 400% more than the poverty line, according to the Brookings Institution , a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
What’s more, “nearly half of women who seek abortion care live in households below the poverty line,” the dissenting judges said.
There were almost 630,000 legal induced abortions reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2019, the agency said. The overwhelming majority happened before the 13-week mark, CDC data showed .
Last year, the median self-pay costs for medication abortion were $568, according to researchers at the University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program. The cost was $625 for a first-trimester abortion and $775 for a second-trimester abortion.
In the months before Friday’s ruling, economists filed court papers tracing a link between abortion access and financial wellness.
They pointed to studies including one finding a roughly 20% increase in the chance of finishing college and a roughly 40% greater chance the women in the sample pool entered a professional occupation.
Another study looked at the financial lives of women turned away from sought-after abortions. Researchers found a 78% increase in past-due debts and an 81% increase in public records linked to bankruptcy, evictions and court judgments.The economic arguments were overstated and cherry-picked, according to anti-abortion advocates.
“Today marks an historic human rights victory for unborn children and their mothers and a bright pro-life future for our nation,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said Friday.
“An entirely new pro-life movement begins today,” she later added. “We are ready to go on offense for life in every single one of those legislative bodies, in each statehouse and the White House. Over the next few years we will have the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands, even millions of lives by limiting the horror of abortion in many states.”
On the other side of the fierce debate, people supporting abortion access echoed the decision’s economic toll. That started with President Joe Biden, who called the ruling “a sad day for the court and the country.” He noting abortion bans were already kicking in several states, due to “trigger laws” premised on Roe’s overturn.
“Too often the case, poor women are going to be hit the hardest,” Biden added.
“Abortion rights are economic rights, and this decision means the loss of economic security, independence, and mobility for abortion seekers. Low- and middle-income people, especially Black and Brown women, will bear the brunt of the impact,” Heidi Shierholz, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, said Friday.
“Reproductive rights are workers’ rights. Reproductive justice is economic justice,” said Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, a 1.4-million member union. “The decision about when and whether to bear children is fundamental to the ability to pursue self-sustaining work.”
“This decision is a clear and direct threat to our well-being, financial stability and economic future of women and families across the country, further degrading public health and economic systems in our country,” said Gary Cunningham, the president and CEO of Prosperity Now. “Those without wealth and most restricted from opportunity will face the brunt of this ruling.”