What overturning abortion law means in a nation without child care aid or family leave

Editor's note: This story on the economic impact of overturning Roe v. Wade was originally published in May and was updated after Friday's Supreme Court ruling

As a nation we like to tell ourselves stories, about our love of family and justice.  About how individual responsibility, hard work and gumption are enough to give every one of us an equal chance to claim our piece of the American dream.  

But that's mostly make-believe. 

Too many of us ignore the broken rungs on the ladder, the discriminatory policies, systems and laws that have preserved access and support for the privileged few. Then we look down on people – often female, often poor, often Black and brown – who struggle to pull themselves off the ground.   

The Supreme Court decision Friday to strike down Roe v. Wade now serves as another legal barrier undermining social and economic justice.

►States that ban, allow abortions:  Search this database for the abortion limits and protections in place in the US

For millions of women, the end of Roe could be just the beginning of a lifetime of economic harm.

Being forced to have a baby you're not ready for can mean having far less to give the children you already have. It can derail your career or your education, undermining your aspirations to build a financial foundation your entire family can stand on.

And limiting a woman's economic mobility by denying her the freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy is the height of cruelty in a nation hostile to helping women feed, educate and house those children once they are born. In 2020, children and adults in 7.6% – or 2.9 million – of U.S. households with children faced food insecurity, according to the USDA.

There is already little support for families, says Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. "When someone is already up against the wall and using every bit of resourcefulness they have to balance, when you add one more thing, everything can fall down.''    

►Where the abortion fight goes from here:Roe overturned but the battle will continue

What does the end of Roe v. Wade mean?

For a middle-income, married couple, it will likely cost $233,610 to care for a child born in 2015 through their 17th birthday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Housing represents 29% of those expenses, followed by food at 18% and child care or education at 16%. College tuition and fees – which cost $9,400 on average in the 2019-20 school year for first-time, full-time undergraduate students at public four-year colleges, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – is not even factored in.

And then there are those parents treading water beneath the federal poverty line.  

The Turnaway Study, a landmark survey looking at women's experiences with abortion and unwanted pregnancy, found that women who sought an abortion but who were denied the procedure were more likely to live in poverty for the next four years compared with women who were able to end their pregnancies.

Women who were unable to get an abortion were also more likely to have more debt and to suffer crippling financial events like eviction or bankruptcy, the study said. 

“The ability to decide whether and when to be pregnant and parent is a key part of determining your life’s path, whether and how you pursue personal and professional goals and (whether you can) safeguard your equality,'' says Heather Shumaker, director of state abortion access for the National Women's Law Center.

What the end of Roe v. Wade means

Conversely, the ability to access a legal abortion in the wake of Roe increased women's likelihood of completing college by almost 20% and getting a professional job by almost 40%, according to an amicus brief submitted by more than 150 economists in the Mississippi abortion case that has opened the door to the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.

►Abortion law overturned:Furor over Roe v. Wade reversal likely won't rescue Democrats in midterm elections: Poll

►Roe v. Wade and the 14th Amendment:What is the 14th Amendment and what does it have to do with Roe v. Wade?

►Overturning Roe v. Wade hurts people of color the most:This is America: Experts say abortion bans will impact people of color the most

Roe allowed "women to get more education, avoid poverty, obtain higher-paying jobs,’’ says Caitlin Knowles Myers, the John G. McCullough Professor of Economics at Middlebury College, who added that after the landmark case, teen motherhood shrank by one-third.  

End of Roe v. Wade hurts these mothers the most

With Roe overturned, the most vulnerable will be hurt the most.   

Among women who have abortions, roughly 6 in 10 are already mothers, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization focused on advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. They are also disproportionately low-income, single and women of color. 

Protesters at the Supreme Court on May 3, 2022, following the leak of a draft of an opinion suggesting the court may overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

"Most of the people who need abortions in this country, they're already parents,'' says Jamila Taylor, director of health care reform and senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank focused on lessening inequality, "so this definitely has implications for ... her ability to parent the children she already has with dignity, and to be able to support them financially.''

Black women are particularly vulnerable. Many live in Southern states, where access to adequate health care, including abortion, was already difficult, and they face a higher risk of deadly outcomes when they do give birth, legal and medical advocates say. 

And because Black women are overrepresented in the lowest-paid jobs, losing the ability to determine how large their family will be creates even more of a financial burden.

"It is no coincidence that some of the states restricting abortion like Mississippi and Alabama have the worst policies in terms of child care and welfare benefits, and the largest Black populations in the country,'' says Andrew Stettner, of The Century Foundation.  "Taking away reproductive freedom in these states has an especially high burden on women of color."

Little child care assistance. No paid family leave

For all those babies born to women who no longer have the legal right to end their pregnancies, there is barely a safety net to catch them.

In 2020, there were 117,000 children waiting to be adopted according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.  

The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world that does not offer paid family leave.

Congress decided not to continue the expanded child tax credit, implemented during the pandemic, which provided families with up to $300 a month per child. In January, a month after the expanded credit expired, 3.7 million children fell into poverty, according to a study by Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. 

The federal government provides very little child care financial assistance, leaving out millions of low- and moderate-income parents who need help paying someone to watch their children so that they can work. The cost of care in a center for children under age 5 takes at least 13% of the average employee's wages, and in some cases it can soar as high as 30%, according to Lending Tree. 

And in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last summer to block a federal moratorium on evictions put into place during the pandemic, millions of Americans are in danger of losing their homes. Black women are the most likely to be evicted, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

The Supreme Court did not listen to the roughly 60% of Americans who want Roe to remain the law. But perhaps we can choose to finally turn our national myths into truth, recognizing that when we make sure all of our children are cared for – that they have enough to eat, can see a doctor when they're sick, and have a roof over their heads – it gives the next generation, and our country, a chance to fulfill its potential. 

If not, a nation that does not give women the right to choose whether to have a child better get ready to help care for those children once they’re here.  

Charisse Jones is an economic opportunity reporter for USA TODAY. She is also the co-author of the American Book Award-winning, "Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women in America," and ballerina Misty Copeland's best selling memoir "Life in Motion.''