the impact of abortions on the economic trajectory of women : The Planet Money Indicator : NPR


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MA: About ten years ago, Cynthia Gutierrez was in college, except she had trouble concentrating on school. She says she was in a toxic relationship, struggling with drug addiction, so she decided to take a break, to get off campus.

CYNTHIA GUTIERREZ: I had to quickly figure out, like, where am I going to live? I was basically couch surfing after I said I was quitting college, trying to get out of this relationship. And during that whole month of chaos, I found out I was pregnant. I was in no financial position to take care of a child – to take care of myself at that time, let alone a child.

MA: Finances were a big concern for Cynthia when she decided not to continue with her pregnancy. But now that Roe v. Wade has been canceled and about half of the states have stricter limits on abortion, many people facing situations similar to Cynthia’s will not have that choice, and the financial consequences of this may change their life.

This is THE PLANET MONEY INDICATOR. I’m Adrien Ma. And today on the show, we’re talking to an economist who set out to quantify the economic effects of refusing an abortion. And what she found surprised even her. More on that after the break.


MA: Even before Roe’s cancellation, many states had rules restricting access to abortion for patients who were pregnant for more than a certain number of weeks. This is called gestational limits. So, for example, let’s say a state has a gestation limit of 22 weeks. This means that if you are less than 22 weeks pregnant, you have the right to get an abortion. But beyond that you are not allowed, with some exceptions, for example, for fetal abnormalities or when the patient’s life is in danger.

Thus, in the 2000s, some researchers wanted to study the experience of people on both sides of this legal divide. They recruited around a thousand women across the country – some who were successful in getting an abortion because they got it before the deadline and those who were denied an abortion because they missed the deadline. stopper. And over the next five years, the researchers checked in with both groups through surveys and interviews, and they asked them about things like their mental and physical health and their finances. This was called the rejection study.

SARAH MILLER: And I remember thinking it was such a great study. It was so innovative to be able to, you know, learn from these women around the time that they were going through this very private and very important time in their lives.

MA: Sarah Miller is studying economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. And when Sarah read this study, she was particularly intrigued by the financial aspect of it.

MILLER: A lot of the women in the study, when asked, you know, why were you looking to terminate that pregnancy, said it was because they were worried about their financial situation. They feared that they would not be economically or financially stable enough for one child or for another child.

MA: And what the researchers found was that women who were denied an abortion experienced higher rates of poverty than those who got an abortion they requested. But this study had certain limitations, and we will discuss only a few of them. First, it was done with a relatively small sample. Thus, out of approximately 3,000 women they approached, a third agreed to participate. And of that group, half stayed in touch throughout the five-year project. Second, because the participants were self-selected – that is, they chose to participate – the study did not reflect the experiences of people who declined to participate, so it was not only a partial image. Third, the researchers relied on surveys and interviews. So they relied on the memories of the participants, which, you know, memory isn’t always very reliable. And finally, the surveys did not really provide information on the financial situation of women before they became pregnant. And that’s what gave Sarah an idea – a way to paint a picture of participants’ economic lives by analyzing their credit history.

MILLER: Data from credit bureaus is interesting because it’s just collected passively. Attendees don’t have to, you know, take a survey and answer questions and answer the phone. If they have consented to participate in the study, we can follow them even without their involvement.

MA: And that was the case even for the participants who dropped out before the end of the project. So basically, Sarah and her colleagues used the information provided by the participants to link these participants to their Experian credit history, and it gave them insight into the participants’ financial situation before and also after they got pregnant. and requested an abortion. And so what they showed was things like credit scores and if they had any outstanding bills or if they had filed for bankruptcy. And by all those sorts of metrics, Sarah says both groups of women started out on pretty similar financial footings, which is that a lot of them were already facing some kind of financial hardship.

MILLER: And it’s only when the abortion denial happens that we see this divergence in the pushback group where they experience this spike in financial issues that remains high over the six years that we can observe them.

MA: So the group of women who were turned down, their financial situation got even worse compared to the other group, which in itself is perhaps not very surprising. You know, a new mom with a new kid has more bills to pay, and maybe that means a little more difficulty making ends meet. But Sarah says what was surprising was the extent of the negative economic results.

MILLER: It wasn’t a 5% or 10% increase in unpaid bills. It was an 80% increase in unpaid bills – you know, an 80% increase in negative interactions with the court system, like bankruptcy filings, or if you get evicted and have to pay a judgment to your landlord. These were really substantial increases in financial problems. Another thing that was interesting is that it was very sustained. It wasn’t like it increased, there were a few bad years and then things got back to normal. It seemed like they were really put on a tougher financial trajectory.

MA: In fact, Sarah said that being denied an abortion had a bigger negative effect on a person’s credit score than being hit with an unexpected hospitalization or having their house flooded by a hurricane. Now, as to why the women in the refusal group suffered more financially, Sarah points out a few factors. For one thing, the majority of women were raising their new babies alone. They didn’t live with a family member or partner and, on average, they received just $20 a month in child support. And while many received social safety net services like food benefits for women, infants and children, Sarah says states with more restrictive abortion laws also tend to have less generous benefits. for low-income mothers.

Cynthia Gutierrez, who we met at the summit, says she didn’t want this life for herself or a child. She was already in a very difficult situation financially, and so this was one of the main reasons why she decided to abort her pregnancy. Afterwards, Cynthia says she started to focus on herself. She got a job at a local pizzeria and started looking for a place to live that wasn’t her friend’s couch.

GUTIERREZ: I was able to find a place to settle down and I was able to, like, pay my first month’s rent and, like, slowly, like, you know, rebuild myself and rebuild my life.

MA: For Cynthia, that included getting sober. She went back to school, earned a degree in sociology, and began a career that today includes being a doula and serving on the board of an advocacy group called Access Reproductive Justice. But today, with Roe overthrown and many states tightening restrictions on abortion, it will be harder for many people to have the choice Cynthia had. Economist Sarah Miller said that when the original refusal study was conducted…

MILLER: Just under 30% of the refusal group were able to find an abortion elsewhere and didn’t really go ahead and have no children. I think that might be very different in today’s environment where you might have to travel hundreds of miles to get to the next state that has an active abortion provider, and those providers might be overwhelmed.

MA: And if or when these women are refused, we could see the ingredients for another refusal study.

This episode of THE INDICATOR was reported with the help of Nicky Ouellet. It was produced by Nicky Ouellet and Jamila Huxtable with engineering by Gilly Moon. Catherine Yang (ph) checked the facts. Our main producer is Viet Le. Kate Concannon edits the show. And THE INDICATOR is an NPR production.

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