By: The Editorial Board – wsj.com – May 11, 2022
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited the Senate on Tuesday to answer questions about risks to financial stability such as inflation, rising interest rates and volatile asset prices. But Democrats were more interested in her views on the risk that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade. The exchange wasn’t helpful to their cause.
“What impact will the loss of abortion access mean economically for women?” New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez asked Ms. Yellen. She replied with a reductionist economic argument: “I believe 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 by decades.”
She added: “Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care including abortion helped lead to increased labor force participation” of women and “research also shows that it had a favorable impact on the well-being and earnings of children.”
South Carolina Republican Tim Scott rejoined: “Did you say that ending the life of a child is good for the labor force participation rate?” Ms. Yellen demurred but warned that restricting abortion would limit women’s ability to “plan lives that are fulfilling and satisfying” and lead to more unwanted children especially by black women, “who will grow up in poverty and do worse themselves.”
Putting the difficult moral choice of abortion in such utilitarian terms won’t win over many converts. But even on those narrow terms, Ms. Yellen ignores some economic facts.
The link between abortion access and women’s labor force participation is more tenuous than she suggests. Women’s labor participation was rising for decades before Roe and continued to climb until the early 2000s amid cultural changes. Abortion rates have also fallen by half since 1980, and teen pregnancy rates have plunged by two-thirds since 1990 amid increased access to contraception. Far more than access to abortion influences the life and work choices of women.
More fundamental, Ms. Yellen overlooks the lost productive contribution of children who were never born. People are assets, the source of inventions and new businesses. Human capital is crucial to economic growth and a dynamic society. China has abandoned its one-child policy, which sometimes included coerced abortions, because it foresees a declining population in the years ahead.
Abortion is a fraught moral issue, which is why it ought to be settled democratically, rather than by judicial fiat. But its consequences can’t be measured by lifetime earnings or the labor participation rate.
To see this article and subscribe to others like it, choose to read more.