This past summer, Chelsea Clinton gave a short speech at “Rise up for Roe,” a tour which aims to “talk about the very real threat #Kavanaugh poses to abortion rights.” At the tour’s kickoff in New York, she claimed, “It is not a disconnected fact – to address this t-shirt of 1973 – that American women entering the labor force from 1973 to 2009 added three and a half trillion dollars to our economy. Right? The net, new entrance of women – that is not disconnected from the fact that Roe became the law of the land in January of 1973.”
I have several problems with Chelsea’s claim. First, it assumes that because something happened after Roe, it must be because of Roe. Second, it ignores a key fact, and third, it reduces a complex moral issue to economic considerations.
First, Chelsea tried to link working women’s impact on the economy to Roe v. Wade. However, women joining the workforce is not directly linked to their ability to have abortions. Women have certainly been motivated to have abortions for the sake of their careers. However, saying that abortion access is solely responsible for the economic gains of all women in the workforce between 1973 to 2009 ignores the powerful factors driving the change. Factors such as the rise in equal education, economic necessity, and the shift from manufacturing to service combined to motivate women to join the workforce.
As a researcher wrote, “Roe is rarely cited as a precedent for women’s rights in any area other than abortion. Virtually all progress in women’s legal, social and employment rights over the past 30 years has come about through federal or state legislation and judicial interpretation wholly unrelated to and not derived from Roe v. Wade.”
A legal scholar noted that, “Whatever progress has been made in the law in combating sex discrimination is attributable to other, independent constitutional doctrines or to the Congressional or state action, rather than to any particular reliance on Roe.”
Attributing the economic gains created by women in the workforce solely to their ability to have abortions de-values the myriad of reasons women have chosen to enter the workforce.
Chelsea would like to attribute women’s entire contribution to the economy to their access to abortions. But aside from abortion access being only a small (and also undocumented) factor, this assumption also ties women’s success in the workforce to their ability to access abortions. Women faced an uphill battle for social and economic equality in the workforce. The #MeToo movement shows that challenges still exist. Given the long process and the hard work that it has taken to reach this point, it is reductionist to tie women’s ability to succeed in the workforce solely to their ability to end a life in their womb.
Clinton assumes that abortion is part of women’s rights and women’s equality. But the government-sanctioned “right” to end the lives of our children is not part of women’s struggles to enjoy the same opportunities as men in the workplace. For the most part, our culture finally acknowledges that women are just as capable as men to be CEOs, engineers, or programmers. To say that this hard-won acceptance is a result of abortion is to say that women must choose between raising a family and having a successful career. Attributing the economic gains women have added to the economy to the passage of Roe v. Wade assumes women can’t succeed without legalized abortion—that a woman’s ability to nurture life within her womb is the greatest threat to her freedom. In short, Chelsea’s argument hinges on the principle that women must become like men to succeed: unable to both work and get pregnant.
If Chelsea was really all about equality for women and women’s right to choose, maybe she should advocate for solutions that actually empower women to choose both success in the workplace and family. Chelsea’s assumption that abortion is part of equality for women makes it socially and economically difficult for women to be able to choose motherhood, even if they want to. Instead, women often face an either-or dilemma in the workplace: family or career. Chelsea’s assumption makes women unequal with men: it is culturally acceptable for men to have a family and a career, but women would often face social, economic, and professional obstacles when they pursue the same path.
Secondly, Clinton celebrates the benefits that women have brought to the economy by joining the workforce. But she ignores the fact that abortion has prevented many people from joining the workforce. If women joining the workforce has been such a boon to our economy, imagine the benefits 60 million more people could have added. The National Right to Life estimated in January that there had been over 60 million abortions in America since Roe V. Wade. Who knows what benefits they would have added to our economy?
Even more concerning is the way that abortion has disproportionately targeted girls. Due to sex-selective abortion and infanticide, there are more than 117 million women missing worldwide.
We don’t know how those women would have enriched the economy, but most importantly, we don’t know how they would have enriched our lives: we don’t know what kind of people they would have been, what they would have achieved, and the friends and families they may have formed.
As pro abundant life people, we know that abortion is fundamentally a moral concern, not an economic one. Even if Chelsea was right and abortion access had added $3.5 trillion to our economy, that still wouldn’t make it right. Even if abortion could erase the national debt, it would not be justified. A life should never be ended because it is inconvenient – economically or otherwise. After all, if it’s okay to end a life as long as the economy benefits, then euthanasia would be the solution to the social security crisis and any poor mother or father would have the right to kill their children.
By using economics to advocate for abortion rights, Chelsea has sidestepped the central pillar of the abortion debate: whether or not an unborn child is a person with inherent, inalienable rights. Economic benefit is irrelevant to that debate. Chelsea’s main problem is that she doesn’t see the unborn as persons. Those of us who fight for those innocents will never be persuaded by arguments that are purely economic, because morality cannot be reduced to money.
The pro-life movement was not formed because abortion harmed the economy. The movement formed because defenseless and innocent people are being killed. The money made or lost because of the practice is irrelevant to the central debate: is a baby a person, or part of the mother’s body? That’s the heart of the debate, not economic factors.
Clinton’s comments reduce women’s success and value in the workplace to their ability have abortions and dehumanizes the unborn baby in the womb. This devalues women and their children. I don’t want to be told that I can’t contribute to the economy unless I deny my ability to give birth to a human life. But even more fundamentally, Clinton’s words miss the most important part of the abortion issue – the moral debate. No amount of economic gain justifies the ending of a life.