Janet Yellen on Abortion and the Economy

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has said that any change to the abortion laws in Alabama could affect the economy. This is because of how women would have more children given their rising incomes which, again, puts pressure on job growth and tax revenue. What does this mean for reproductive rights?


Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. on May 10.

Tom Williams for Bloomberg News

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke before the Senate on threats to financial stability such as inflation, increasing interest rates and fluctuating asset prices. Democrats, on the other hand, were more interested in her thoughts on the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. The conversation was not beneficial to their purpose.

“What economic effect will the lack of abortion access have on women?” Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey posed the question to Ms. Yellen. “I think abolishing women’s ability to decide when and whether to have children would have extremely devastating economic implications and would put women behind by decades,” she responded with a reductionist economic reasoning.

“Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, contributed to higher labor force participation” among women, she said, adding that “research also suggests that it had a positive influence on the well-being and earnings of children.”

“Did you suggest that taking the life of a kid is beneficial for the labor force participation rate?” South Carolina Republican Tim Scott responded. Ms. Yellen declined to comment, but cautioned that banning abortion would limit women’s capacity to “plan full and gratifying lives” and result in more unwanted children, particularly among black women “who will grow up in poverty and do poorly themselves.”

Putting the difficult moral decision of abortion in such utilitarian terms is unlikely to convince many people. Ms. Yellen, however, misses certain economic fundamentals even in those limited terms.

The relationship between abortion availability and women’s engagement in the work force is more shaky than she implies. Prior to Roe v. Wade, women’s work participation had been increasing for decades and had continued to rise until the early 2000s, despite societal shifts. Abortion rates have dropped by half since 1980, and adolescent pregnancy rates have dropped by two-thirds since 1990, thanks to increasing contraceptive availability. Women’s life and career choices are influenced by much more than abortion availability.

Ms. Yellen also fails to recognize the lost productive contribution of children who were never born. People are assets, since they are the source of fresh ideas and enterprises. Economic prosperity and a vibrant society need human capital. China has ended its one-child policy, which includes coercive abortions on occasion, since it expects its population to decline in the coming years.

Abortion is a contentious moral matter that should be resolved democratically rather than by judicial decree. However, lifetime earnings or the labor participation rate are insufficient indicators of its impact.

Three reasons why an abortion verdict would not hinder gay marriage, according to a Journal editorial. Getty Images/Associated Press Mark Kelly’s composite

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The print issue of the May 12, 2022, was published.

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