Speaking at the “Rise up for Roe” rally this past Saturday in Manhattan, Chelsea Clinton along with CNN political commentator Symone Sanders and columnist Lauren Duca urged attendees to oppose the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Clinton, like many other supporters of legal abortion, thinks Kavanaugh might be the fifth vote to reverse the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. However, Chelsea Clinton’s defense of Roe v. Wade was unconventional. During her remarks, she stated that the women entering the economy between 1973 and 2009 added $3.5 trillion in wealth to the U.S. economy.
At the rally, Clinton failed to provide any evidence that Roe v. Wade has been economically beneficial. However, on Twitter, she cited a 2018 study by Diana Greene Foster that appeared in the American Journal of Public Health. This study was part of the abortion turnaway study which compared the life outcomes of women who obtained abortions to women who had sought abortions but were unable to obtain one because of gestational age limits. The study finds that women who were unable to obtain abortions were more likely to live in poverty in the short term. However, after a five year period, the poverty rates of women who carried their pregnancy to term were almost identical to the group of women who had first-trimester abortions. As such, this study provides no evidence to support Clinton’s assertion that legalizing abortion created trillions in wealth.
Of course, Clinton’s remarks about the economic impact of abortion are unlikely to persuade pro-lifers. The pro-life movement views the protection of unborn children as the most important social justice issue of our time. Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, data from both the Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that the lives of over 60 million innocent unborn children have been lost through legal abortion here in the United States. Additionally, the legalization of abortion has coarsened our culture and resulted in a lifetime of regret for countless women. As their actions make clear in providing medical, physical, and social service support, pro-lifers would certainly be willing to bear any economic cost to protect both vulnerable unborn children and their mothers.
That said, since economic arguments may persuade some people, it is worth noting that there are many reasons why abortion might be economically harmful. Abortion, along with contraception, has made it more socially acceptable for men to abandon women they impregnate. This has resulted in more single parent families which tend to rely more on public services. Also, abortion, along with other factors, has reduced fertility rates in the United States. As a result, the United States has fewer workers and fewer wealth producers. Furthermore, falling fertility rates means that we have fewer workers supporting more retirees through Social Security, Medicare, and other programs. That will result in either higher deficits or higher taxes – neither of which is economically beneficial.
In some respects, Chelsea Clinton’s comments are unsurprising. As ultrasound technology has improved and images of preborn children have become more vivid, it has become more difficult for supporters of legal abortion to deny the humanity of the unborn. Many pro-choice advocates slip into either utilitarian or consequentialist arguments. As recently as 1978, NARAL was arguing that legal abortion would reduce the incidence of child abuse. Supporters of legal abortion have also argued that abortion would lower out-of-wedlock childbearing rates. Unfortunately, these claims, like Chelsea Clinton’s claim that Roe v. Wade created $3.5 trillion in wealth, lack any serious empirical support.
Michael J. New is a visiting assistant professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an associate scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New