The stressed labor market in central Pennsylvania stands to lose an added portion of its workforce after accessing abortion becomes more difficult following the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (Dobbs), the Mississippi case determining the future of abortion access across the U.S.
Although the overall population of the state has grown over the past decade, at 4.6%, the unemployment rate statewide is nearly back to the pre-pandemic low of 4.3%. In the central part of the state, unemployment is even lower than the statewide average; making it even more challenging for employers to fill open positions.
David Shapiro, a recently retired Professor of Economics, Demography, and Women’s Studies at Penn State University, has spent decades studying the relationship between fertility and economic factors like labor participation. According to Shapiro, we can expect to see an additional decrease in available labor and an increased need for tax-funded social services if abortion becomes more difficult to access. Professor Shapiro stated “the likely result would be more pregnancies that end in live births rather than abortion, and the resulting increased demand for childcare would no doubt result in some reduction in women’s labor force participation and employment. There would likely be some corresponding increase in poverty as well.”
This statement aligns with that of the more than 150 economists who filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the respondents in Dobbs in which they state “for young women who experienced an unintended pregnancy, access to abortion increased the probability they finished college by nearly 20 percentage points, and the probability that they entered a professional occupation by nearly 40 percentage points.”
Although Pennsylvania does not have legislation in place to immediately ban abortion following an overturning of Roe v. Wade, the state of Ohio and other surrounding states do. These laws go into effect “upon the occurrence of” the Supreme Court issuing a decision allowing states to ban abortion.
According to Melissa Reed, CEO of Planned Parenthood Keystone, which serves the central part of the state, an analysis of abortions in Ohio and West Virginia, ZIP codes, and travel patterns of potential patients shows that bans in these neighboring states could lead to an influx of more than 8,500 patients coming to Pennsylvania seeking abortion care annually.
Although Reed says that they have been preparing for this outcome for years by adding clinics and launching new services like abortion pills by mail, there will still be patients who are unable to secure time off from work, childcare, or other resources required to travel for care.
The effect on the labor market and employers is becoming part of the national conversation. Following the leak of the draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen commented during a Senate Banking Committee hearing “Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor force participation”.
Even people who remain in the workforce will have lower productivity due to increased time off to accommodate the needs of pregnancy and child rearing. Prenatal visits, birth and parental leave, and increased sick days all will result in higher costs for employers — and a wealth of research makes clear that not offering these benefits results in higher turnover and even lower productivity.
As employers are increasingly taking a stand on reproductive rights, the pressure for others to follow suit is also rising. In addition to many Fortune 500 companies whose employee health care plans already cover the medical costs of getting an abortion, more than a dozen major American corporations have recently pledged to cover additional related costs for employees needing to travel to obtain an abortion.
Although this number is less than abortion advocates are pushing for, theoretical support for abortion rights is even higher. In 2019, more than 180 companies signed onto the “Don’t Ban Equality” statement that ran as an ad in The New York Times taking a stand for reproductive rights including abortion. Since the passing of Texas’ Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after about 6 weeks gestation, and following the leak of the draft Dobbs decision, support for abortion rights has only increased. Jen Stark, the senior director of corporate strategy at the Tara Health Foundation, called S.B. 8 “a wakeup call for corporate America”.
In an op-ed for Fast Company, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman, stated “[abortion] restrictions already cost states an estimated $105 billion annually in labor force impact and earnings.”
Stoppelman also calls on the rest of the business community to take action to protect and expand abortion access, “We need more business leaders to use their platform and influence to help ensure that reproductive rights are codified into law, and that the wave of abortion bans and restrictive policies across the country are not allowed to stand.”
Readers who want to support abortion access in central Pennsylvania are encouraged to visit Planned Parenthood Keystone’s “Take Action” webpage at cutt.ly/no-bans-in-pa.