Closing The Gap

Janet Yellen: Overturning Roe v. Wade would be ‘very damaging’ to the economy, women

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is questioned by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., during the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 10, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Tom William | Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images

If the Supreme Court chooses to repeal Roe v. Wade — effectively removing nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion — it could be catastrophic for the economy, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned on Tuesday. 

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey asked Yellen what the economic consequences of overturning the ruling would be during a Senate Banking Committee hearing, NBC reports

"I believe that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades," Yellen, who is the first woman to lead the Treasury, said. 

Yellen added that research has shown how having access to abortion has allowed women to plan "fulfilling and satisfying" lives, in addition to improving the well-being of children. Denying women access to abortion, however, could increase their odds of living in poverty or on public assistance. 

Yellen's comments come one week after a draft Supreme Court decision on Mississippi's strict abortion law was published by Politico. 

"We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the 98-page draft decision, according to Politico's report. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the draft.

If the draft is adopted before the court's term ends in about two months, states would be able to restrict when and how people have abortions without the federal courts' say, CNBC reports.

Recent research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that women who were denied an abortion experienced "a large increase in financial distress that is sustained for several years," including a substantial increase in the rate of evictions, bankruptcies and other negative financial events. 

While such research focuses on women, it's important to note that transgender men, gender non-conforming people and others get abortions, too. 

"It enabled many women to finish school," Yellen said of Roe v. Wade. "That increased their earning potential. It allowed women to plan and balance their families and careers. And research also shows that it had a favorable impact on the well-being and earnings of children."

Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina challenged Yellen's stance during Tuesday's meeting, saying that framing the abortion debate around economic consequences was "harsh." 

"I think people can disagree on the issue of being pro-life or pro-abortion," Scott said, adding that he was raised by a Black single mother. "But in the end, I think framing it in the context of labor force participation, it just feels callous to me." 

Yellen pointed out that abortions, in many cases, benefit adolescents, "particularly low-income and often Black, who aren't in a position to be able to care for children" or have unwanted pregnancies. "It deprives them of the ability often to continue their education to later participate in the workforce," she said. 

Women are still struggling to recover from the devastating economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic: There are still close to one million fewer women working or actively seeking a new job than in February 2020, and women account for 70% of the jobs lost in the last two years, according to recent research from the National Women's Law Center. 

"So there is a spillover into labor force participation, but it means the children will grow up in poverty and do worse themselves," Yellen said. "This is not harsh … this is the truth." 

Check out:

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Making $85,000 a year as a doula in Washington, D.C.
Making $85,000 a year as a doula in Washington, D.C.