The battle over women’s reproductive rights in the United States is not new. Since the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, the lines have been drawn between pro-choice and pro-life advocates. These positions have been entrenched in US politics for decades, but have taken a sharp turn under the current Trump administration. Though data show that restricting abortion access hurts women in the workforce, the president has vigorously pursued regressive policies, contrary to his stated intentions to support economic growth for women.
In fact, these antiquated decisions will not only jeopardize the prosperity of women but also their health and safety, especially for low-income women and women of color. If the United States succeeds at revoking women’s right to abortion, the social climate will be reminiscent of another country that made this attempt in the 1960s: Romania.
Early on, the Trump administration took steps to limit access to health services and family planning. Title X, a federal program that provides birth control and other reproductive health services to 4 million low-income Americans, will now prohibit referrals for abortion as a method of family planning. The final rule does not bar non-directive counseling on abortion, but the change eliminates the requirement that Title X providers offer abortion counseling and referral.
Other regulations also state that recipients of federal funding will offer “medically-approved” family planning services, as well as the option to not provide all forms of effective contraception approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. These decisions will affect not only low-income Americans but disproportionately impact women of color, who are three times more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy.
Lessons from History
The Trump administration has frequently touted its desire to support women entrepreneurs, but not the rights of women. Copious amounts of evidence show that the administration’s policies do the exact opposite of what they claim. The administration has even gone as far as to remove any reference to sexual and reproductive health, including using the term abortion itself, in international institutions such as the G-7, positioning itself as conservative in foreign policy. Policies like these, limiting women’s health-care options, have shown to bring disastrous results.
Prior to 1966, Romania had one of the most liberal abortion policies in the world, that is until Decree 770 was implemented, banning abortion as well as the distribution and use of contraceptives. To compensate for the loss of the freedom to choose, incentives were provided for women to have many children, with the aim of increasing the country’s population. Romania initially saw a boom in births, but this was short-lived, as women began seeking out illegal abortions, causing birthrates to dramatically fall. An estimated 10,000 Romanian women died from complications of illegal abortions or were permanently maimed. The decree disproportionately affected lower-income women and disadvantaged groups, who could not afford to bribe doctors or have contraceptives smuggled into the country.
What has happened in Romania has left a traumatic stain on the country’s history. The effects of the policy convinced many Romanians that contraceptives are unreliable and unhygienic, resulting in the idea that abortion is the only sure way of avoiding parenthood. The spike in birthrates under the decree saw an unprecedented number of these children ending up in orphanages. Although some of these offered good conditions, many were far from it and resulted in thousands of children suffering from illnesses — an estimated 500,000 living in what one of these former orphans called the “slaughterhouses of souls” before the end of the Cold War.
Romania continues to have the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy in the EU. If similar anti-abortion laws are implemented in the US, women of color and lower-income women will face the same issues, in contrast to affluent white women. Abortion can represent a heavy financial burden for poor and low-income women who may not have insurance coverage or be able to secure money for an emergency expense.
Better for Everyone
In addition to the negative health implications, studies have shown the legalization of abortion positively impacts women’s labor participation and overall gross domestic product (GDP). The opposite happens when there are regulations for women who are seeking abortions, making it difficult to move between occupations and into higher-paying jobs. For example, abortion restrictions heavily impact women who get pregnant in college. According to a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, only 8% of single mothers graduated with a college degree within six years, compared with 49% of women without children.
Roughly 2.8 million new jobs have been added to the US economy since January 2018, with 1.6 million going to women. However, the White House isn’t sharing the proportion of the population available for work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 57.5% of working-age women are employed, or unemployed and seeking work, which is lower than the 60.3% reported in April 2000. Women are receiving higher pay in some sectors, but are still earning roughly 82 cents to the dollar compared to men. The balance of work and family has always affected women more than men, and restricting women’s sexual and reproductive rights makes it harder, not easier, for women in work.
Romania serves as the perfect example of how oppressive abortion laws affect public health, demonstrating what can happen when a woman’s choice is taken away. If the United States wants to see a productive workforce, the government should start by advocating for women’s rights and implement policies that support tangible economic growth for women by ensuring parental leave and affordable childcare. This will encourage society to make sound economic choices, as well as pave the way for women’s advancement toward real equality.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.