Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday said eliminating women’s access to abortion would have “very damaging effects” on the US economy, keeping some women from completing their educations and reducing their lifetime earnings potential and participation in the labor force.
Yellen’s comments at a Senate Banking Committee hearing came just over a week after the leak of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion. The pending decision has raised fears that many more states would enact far-reaching abortion restrictions.
The issue dominated a hearing about Treasury’s Financial Stability Oversight Council annual report.
Yellen, the first female Treasury secretary, said in response to a senator’s question that research has shown that Roe v. Wade had a favorable impact on the well-being of children and that denying women access to abortions increases their odds of living in poverty or on public assistance.
“I believe that eliminating the rights of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades,” Yellen said.
Yellen’s comments drew a rebuke from Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who said her framing of the economic consequences of the abortion debate were “harsh” and inappropriate for such a painful social issue.
“I think people can disagree on the issue of being pro-life or pro abortion. But in the end, I think framing it in the context of labor force participation, it just feels callous to me,” said Scott, adding that he was raised by a Black single mother in poverty.
Yellen responded by saying that reproductive rights allow women to plan “fulfilling and satisfying” lives, which includes having the financial resources to raise a child.
“In many cases, abortions are of teenage women, particularly low-income and often Black, who aren’t in a position to be able to care for children, have unexpected pregnancies, and it deprives them of the ability often to continue their education to later participate in the workforce,” Yellen said.
“So there is a spillover into labor force participation, but it means the children will grow up in poverty and do worse themselves,” Yellen said. “This is not harsh. This is the truth,” she added.
Fellow Democrats came to Yellen’s defense, including Senator Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, who admonished Scott not to “impose your experience and your circumstances on others until you walk in their shoes.”
Senator Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat and another member of the banking panel, told CNN that Yellen was expressing a fundamental truth about women’s autonomy.
“She was expressing what I believe almost every woman knows: If you don’t have control over your reproductive life, you don’t have control over any aspect of your life, including your economic opportunity,” Smith said.