Commentary: US Supreme Court decision on abortion could hurt more than just women

BALTIMORE, Maryland: A leaked draft suggests the United States Supreme Court is ready to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark case that gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy.

But reproductive health isn’t just about abortion, despite all the attention the procedure gets. It’s also about access to family planning services, contraception, sex education and much else – all of which have also come under threat in recent years.

Such access lets women control the timing and size of their families so they have children when they are financially secure and emotionally ready and can finish their education and advance in the workplace. After all, having children is expensive, typically costing almost US$15,000 a year for a middle-class family. For low-income working families, childcare costs alone can eat up over a third of earnings.

And that’s why providing Americans with a full range of reproductive health options is good for the economy, at the same time as being essential to the financial security of women and their families. Doing the opposite threatens not only the physical health of women but their economic well-being too.

THE ECONOMICS OF CONTRACEPTION

A Supreme Court majority acknowledged as much in 1992, stating in its Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey decision: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

But in recent years, the right to control their reproductive health has become increasingly illusory for many women, particularly the poor.

Given their focus on limiting access to abortion, you might assume that conservative politicians would be for policies that help women avoid unintended pregnancies. But conservative attacks on birth control are escalating, even though 99 per cent of sexually active women of reproductive age have used some form of it such as an intrauterine device (IUD), patch or pill at least once.