Turning down a $300K job, deferring dreams of Austin: How Roe's end is changing millennials' career plans—and lives

Abortion rights activists protest at the Federal Courthouse Plaza after the overturning of Roe Vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court, in Austin, Texas, on June 24, 2022.
Suzanne Cordeiro | Afp | Getty Images

The overturn of Roe v. Wade in June ended nearly 50 years of federal abortion rights, meaning access to health care depends on where you live and work more than ever.

Restricted abortion access will have major career and financial consequences for women, experts say.

For Kristi Bradford, the immediate cost is a $300,000 paycheck.

Bradford, 32, walked away from a $300,000 job based in Oklahoma out of concern for her health. She's a strategic investment professional living in Los Angeles and was set to start working remotely for a company based in Oklahoma this month. But once Roe was overturned, and Oklahoma enacted its trigger law banning almost all abortions, Bradford says the uncertainty surrounding the state's restricted reproductive care led her to pull out of the job altogether.

In the weeks since the Supreme Court ruling, professionals ranging from doctors to academics to tech workers are already changing their career plans in a post-Roe America.

'I'd rather have my life than millions of dollars'

It took Bradford several weeks to understand how restricted reproductive-care access could impact her, even as a California resident where abortions remain legal. She's still not totally clear on it — that's the problem.

Bradford has endometriosis, a painful chronic condition where tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows on other parts of the reproductive organs. She's managed her diagnosis by undergoing a dilation and curettage, or D&C, the same procedure used in many surgical abortions.

She has also been prescribed a progesterone hormone, medically classified as contraception, to manage symptoms. While a 1965 Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, protects the right to birth control, Bradford is wary of efforts to limit access following the Roe overturn. (Justice Clarence Thomas argued the Court should revisit previous rulings regarding contraception, for example.)

Bradford grew concerned about her new employer-based health insurance coverage, she wrote in a personal essay posted to Medium in August: If she's a remote employee in California with health insurance based in Oklahoma, which state's laws would govern her health care? Would her insurance deny coverage of anything illegal in Oklahoma? What if she had a reproductive-related emergency during a trip to Oklahoma?

The best responses she got to those questions, even after consulting a lawyer: "We'll see how it plays out in the courts," she says.

Kristi Bradford says the overturn of Roe v. Wade made her walk away from a $300K dream job based in Oklahoma, which has a strict abortion ban.
Courtesy of subject

"The uncertainty is the biggest thing," Bradford tells CNBC Make It. "Even if I put my energy into all these resources to get answers to these questions, at the end of the day, there's just so much uncertainty caused by the Supreme Court decision. There's no way you can get all the answers right now."

She also recognizes that not everyone impacted by the Roe decision has the same resources as her. Experts say Black women, Latinas and low-income people will be the most harmed by state laws that restrict abortion access.

"It's distressing the Supreme Court has put women in the position of choosing between their life and their economic wellbeing," Bradford says. Ultimately, she doesn't regret her decision: "I'd rather have my life than millions of dollars."

Bradford has decided that the best path forward is to rely on herself— she plans to launch a consulting business — though it means forgoing a steady and lucrative paycheck.

'It's hard for me to get excited about raising [my daughter] in Texas'

Until recently, Damien Peters, 39, dreamt of moving with his wife and 5-year-old son from the D.C. area in Maryland and planting roots in Austin, Texas. He spent his early tech career there and, now as the owner of a real estate firm, says the state's tax advantages are hard to beat.

But good financial moves can't outweigh the state's increasingly conservative leanings, Peters says. Now that Roe has been overturned and he's expecting a newborn daughter later this year, Austin is off the table for the time being.

"It's not to say that this only impacts women — it impacts everyone," Peters says about the state's strict abortion ban. "But it's hard for me to get excited about raising her in Texas. For one, there's the legality of, if she's ever in that position, can she choose? Then, what does it say about raising her in that environment?"

Even a smaller move 20 minutes away to Virginia, where Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin sought to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, presents a risk, Peters says. They could settle in a liberal city, but if the state is run by conservative lawmakers, "what does that mean for my future daughter's ability to make a decision about her own body?"

Damien Peters dreamt of moving his family to Austin, Texas, but says Roe's overturn makes him more wary of moving to a conservative state.
Courtesy of subject

He wonders what state-by-state legislation could mean for highly mobile knowledge workers, especially in tech, choosing where to live and work. Could the tech migration from the Bay Area to Austin slow? Do Midwestern upstarts throughout Silicon Prairie stand a chance?

Some predict red states will see a so-called "brain drain" of highly educated and highly paid professionals fleeing to states where safe abortions are accessible. And some businesses, including Salesforce, have gone so far as to offer to relocate employees living in states with abortion bans. 

Pro-choice residents grapple with whether to stay or go

Roughly 1 in 3 job-seekers say they won't apply to a job in a state with an abortion ban, according to an August ResumeBuilder survey of 1,000 people. And 1 in 4 job-seekers currently living in a restrictive state is applying to jobs only where abortion is legal.

Of course, not everyone can turn down a job in an anti-abortion state or move out if they don't like newly enacted bans. But those with the means to leave are also feeling conflicted.

Mary M., a 34-year-old marketer based in Austin, finds herself stuck. She requested CNBC Make It withhold her last name so she could speak freely about her employment situation. She's lived in Austin for nine years, working from home for the last two, but has wanted to leave Texas for a while due to the state's conservative leadership.

She works for a company headquartered in Florida, which bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and isn't sure how to bring up moving to a state that supports abortion rights, like Nevada or Colorado.

She doesn't have kids but plans to one day: "I'm almost 35. If something were to happen and I had issues with my pregnancy, I'd want to feel safe," she says. "A lot of that involves going to a doctor's office, and not worrying that they're worried about getting arrested" while providing reproductive care.

But Mary hasn't totally given up on the place she's called home. She's currently a volunteer for Democrat Beto O'Rourke's run for governor in November. "It's a fine line of: Do I want to move and make the state get even more red? Or do I stay in a red state and try to turn it blue?" she says.

Mary has some hope. She looks to Kansas, where residents overwhelmingly voted to uphold abortion rights in their state earlier this month. "With what we saw in Kansas," she says, "anything can happen with these elections."

Check out:

Handling business 'in the midst of our pain': What it's like working for an abortion provider now

34% of younger workers are thinking of switching jobs due to company’s stance on abortion, post Roe

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

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What it's like working for an abortion provider right now
What it's like working for an abortion provider right now