One of the arguments that Mississippi has made as a law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy makes its way through the Supreme Court is that women have progressed enough economically to make abortion unnecessary.
Before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to abortion up to 23 weeks, “there was little support for women who wanted a full family life and a successful career,” Mississippi’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch, said in a statement in July summing up the argument and announcing that she had filed a brief with the court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. “Maternity leave was rare. Paternity leave was unheard-of. The gold standard for professional success was a 9-to-5 with a corner office. The flexibility of the gig economy was a fairy tale.
“In these last 50 years,” she continued, “women have carved their own way to achieving a better balance for success in their professional and personal lives.”
While some progress has been made, the idea that the benefits that Ms. Fitch described are available to a majority of women is still a stretch.
Parental leave is still rare. The United States is the only rich country without national paid maternity leave. Family leave is available to only 20 percent of private-sector workers and 8 percent of low-wage workers, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The option to work from home is not widely available. Even with the pandemic closing down offices, fewer than half of U.S. workers had the flexibility to work from home in 2020.
Research has found that women face more barriers to fully participating in the work force without access to abortion. One study last year compared the outcomes of women who were able to obtain an abortion and those who were denied the procedure. It found “a large and persistent increase in financial distress” for those denied abortions, including larger debt and higher eviction rates. Studies also have directly linked a woman’s ability to control her fertility with increased labor force participation.
Becoming a mother also can have a significant economic impact. Mothers lose out on tens of thousands of dollars in lifetime earnings in what is known as the “motherhood penalty.” Fathers don’t face decreased wages.
While pregnancy discrimination has been outlawed, it is still rampant. In two-thirds of the dozens of pregnancy discrimination cases filed between 2015 and 2019, courts sided with employers, stating that they didn’t need to provide pregnant women with accommodations like additional bathroom breaks or a stool to sit on, according to an analysis by A Better Balance, a national advocacy organization that provides free legal advice for pregnant women facing discrimination.
Should the court overturn Roe v. Wade, at least 20 states have laws or constitutional amendments already in place to ban abortion as quickly as possible, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, and five others are likely to follow suit.