New Study Links Reproductive Healthcare Rights with Improved Economic and Health Outcomes for Illinois’ Women and Children

La Grange, IL: Illinois women and children realize vastly superior economic and health outcomes compared to the 20 U.S. states that either have or are expected to implement bans on abortion services, according to new research conducted by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) and Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Read the Study: “Economic Outcomes of Women and Children in Illinois Compared to States that Have Banned or Are Likely to Ban Abortion.”

In its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that protected access to abortion services for women nationwide. In its wake, at least 20 U.S. states that had already taken steps to eliminate access to abortion services—such as by limiting when abortions could be performed, mandating waiting periods, and banning insurance plans from covering the procedure—have since moved to implement outright bans, often without exceptions for rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. By contrast, Illinois has maintained access to abortion services at the Roe standard of fetal viability, without waiting periods, and while ensuring that both private health insurance plans and Medicaid cover services.

“Prior research has already linked reproductive healthcare rights with lower rates of teen pregnancy, maternal mortality, and child poverty, as well as a host of other positive economic and social outcomes,” said Frank Manzo IV, ILEPI Executive Director and study coauthor. “Because the Dobbs decision has so far delegated policymaking on these issues to individual states, it is important to understand the dismal outcomes for women and children in places that were already limiting access to abortion services before Dobbs and where outright bans are now being imposed.”

In conducting their analysis, ILEPI and PMCR researchers relied on American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau and information from the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the U.S. Department of Commerce to analyze a range of economic and social outcomes for women and children in Illinois and the 20 U.S. states that have already banned or are likely to ban access to abortion services. Advanced statistical techniques known as regressions were used to control for observable factors such as age, racial and ethnic background, citizenship, veteran status, marital status, geography, occupation, and industry.

The data revealed that women workers earn 8% higher annual incomes, are 7% more likely to have health insurance coverage, are 11% less likely to be in poverty, are 16% more likely to have bachelor’s degrees, and are also more likely to be employed, own their homes, and serve in leadership positions than their peers in the states that ban or are likely to ban abortion. Illinois’ children are 5% more likely to be covered by health insurance plans and are 13% less likely to suffer from childhood poverty.

“Illinois women realize higher incomes, better educational attainment, lower poverty, more access to health insurance, and greater levels of labor force participation when compared to women in states that restrict their reproductive healthcare rights,” said Grace Dunn, ILEPI Research Associate and study coauthor. “The data suggests these gaps are only likely to widen in the wake of Dobbs, since more women will lose the right to make their own healthcare decisions and further restrictions on abortion rights will take effect.”

Alongside the Roe legal framework and wider availability of contraception, between 1988 and 2017, the number of abortions performed in the United States had declined significantly—by 48% nationally and by 44% in Illinois. Prior research has shown that access to abortion services reduces the number of children who live in poverty and who rely on government assistance programs, in part because half of all women who seek abortions (49%) have family incomes below the federal poverty line. Researchers have also linked legal access to abortion services to reductions in cases of child neglect and abuse, decreases in crime rates, and increases the likelihood of children graduating college. More than six-in-ten Americans currently support abortion rights, according to recent public polling. 

Despite the substantial differences in economic outcomes for women and children detailed in the ILEPI-PMCR study, researchers noted that between 2016 and 2020, both average family size and the average number of children in the household were nearly identical for women in Illinois and women in states that have taken steps to limit abortion rights. However, the data also showed Illinois women were about 7% less likely to be married and 26% less likely to be divorced or separated.

“While abortion policy does not appear to have any determinative effect on whether women ultimately have children, the data does suggest that giving women the freedom to make these decisions for themselves promotes greater family stability in addition to better economic outcomes,” Dunn added.

Though their report highlighted Illinois’ comparative superiority relative to states with more restrictive reproductive healthcare policies, researchers noted that the state could still take additional steps to improve economic conditions for women and working mothers.

“Research consistently shows that the cost of higher education and childcare, a lack of paid sick or parental leave, and inflexible work arrangements each impose real barriers for women in the labor force,” said Dr. Robert Bruno, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Professor, PMCR Director, and study coauthor. “While the protection of reproductive healthcare rights clearly promotes better outcomes relative to the alternative, it is important for policymakers to be equally vigilant in addressing the other obstacles to labor force participation and career advancement that disproportionately deny women the economic opportunities and freedom that they deserve.”   

The Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) is a nonprofit organization which uses advanced statistics and the latest forecasting models to promote thoughtful economic growth for businesses and working families.   

The Project for Middle Class Renewal (PMCR) at the University of Illinois investigates the working conditions of workers in today’s economy to elevate public discourse aimed at reducing poverty, create more stable forms of employment, and promote middle-class jobs.