In the days following the Supreme Court’s historic rejection of the Constitutional right to receive abortion care, experts, advocates, and policymakers have attempted to describe the consequences of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Eliminating a right exercised by at least 25% of American women over the past 50 years will have serious ramifications in the political and social spheres. And it will have serious economic consequences that cannot be mitigated with corporate cash.
Abortion care is often discussed as a personal issue with professional impacts on parents. But the personal and the professional cannot be disaggregated in a country without universal healthcare, subsidized child care, or paid parental leave.
Neither can the economic and the emotional.
Through hours of conversation about the economy on our podcast and countless messages from listeners across the world, we’ve learned that the economy is driven by emotion more than finance. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will soon provide a harsh lesson about how the financial and the emotional are inseverable.
We already know that the burden of Dobbs will fall hardest on low-income women who will not be able to travel long distances to find an abortion care provider. This reality existed before Dobbs because of state regulations. It will now increase exponentially as abortion clinics—many of which already existed as the sole provider in a state—are forced to close their doors.
We already know that corporate America sees reason to get involved. Companies are rushing to announce coverage of travel expenses for employees seeking out-of-state abortion care. This isn’t altruism. It is a recognition, especially in a strained labor market, that abortion care is essential to maintaining a diverse talent pool.
What we don’t know is how the emotional calculus will change post-Roe for workers needing abortion care. The financial realities of travel are significant, and it’s positive that businesses are interested in helping. But money alone cannot solve this problem. Corporate travel benefits will require workers to reveal extremely private matters in order to take advantage of them. It’s not difficult to imagine circumstances under which a worker would not want to disclose the need for abortion care to their employer.
In addition to travel expenses, people seeking abortion care might need time off from work before and following treatment. They might need childcare, an increasingly expensive and scarce service. They might worry, rightly, about how taking advantage of these benefits will impact their future prospects at a company. We don’t know if remaining employed under the circumstances will be untenable.
We don’t know how the labor force will shift given the state-by-state regulation of fundamental healthcare access. Many organizations will increase compensation in states that have restricted or outlawed abortion, in well-meaning attempts to assuage applicants’ fears. But, again, money will not solve for every angle. How many women will refuse to work in states that have prohibited abortion care? How many women are already assessing their options because of their concerns for future restrictions on contraception, reproductive care, and infertility care? How will transgender men respond to these laws? When state laws restrict choices at all points during the reproductive years, many potential employees will logically choose to avoid states implementing draconian regimes.
We don’t know how the Court’s decision will impact families in the long term. It’s easy to assume that the absence of abortion care will lead to more births, but this, too, discounts the emotional impact of the Dobbs decision. Our community of listeners (and our own experiences as parents of school-age children) tell us that even planned pregnancies stress households beyond reason. Parents are currently facing formula shortages, unreliable and unaffordable childcare, a housing shortage and skyrocketing costs for the most modest family homes.
The financial stress of parenting is inevitable and constantly wrapped up in the emotional toll of caring for children. Every choice to take time off or shorten a vacation or skip a purchase or change jobs is rife with guilt, shame, and pressure. This is the ordinary stress. The Court has added to that stress by allowing states to remove any off-ramps, which could mean that couples contemplating starting a family in the face of a medical challenge never try, that young people will choose sterilization procedures over the risks of mostly-effective birth control measures, that the entire prospect of parenting will feel more like a sentence than an opportunity.
Dobbs’s impact will take decades to sort out, and the impact on the bottom line is only the beginning. Our best experts cannot model and prepare for the cascading impacts of eliminating the right to abortion care. In its majority opinion, the Supreme Court said it doesn’t pretend to know how society will respond. Disingenuousness of that statement aside, it is true that we can’t begin to predict with clarity what the Court has wrought.
Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers co-host Pantsuit Politics podcast and co-authored Now What? How to Move Forward When We’re Divided (About Basically Everything). They speak frequently at universities, businesses, and civic organizations about improving political dialogue.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com