WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen entered one of the most politically charged U.S. debates Tuesday, saying the economy would suffer if the Supreme Court significantly limits women’s access to abortion.

Eliminating the right to access abortion services “would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades,” Yellen told lawmakers during a Senate Banking Committee hearing, responding to a question from Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey about the economic impact of an abortion ban.

Economic research, she added, suggested such a move would increase poverty levels for women and hurt the future earnings of children. The remarks were disputed by Republicans on the panel, who highlighted policies that can help single mothers and the drop in American birth rates that affects long-run growth.

The draft of a Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision became public this month. If the ruling were made final, it would strike down a half-century federal precedent that gave women the right to seek an abortion, and it would allow states to make their own laws and restrictions.

A senior Republican on the panel, Tim Scott of South Carolina, objected to Yellen framing the issue of abortion in economic terms. “An unusually piercing comment that you made,” he said.

“I think people can disagree on the issue of being pro-life or pro-abortion, but in the end I think framing it in the context of labor force participation just feels callous to me,” he said.


Yellen responded that she didn’t mean to sound harsh but was speaking to the economic realities for women and children.

“What we’re talking about is whether women will have the ability to regulate their reproductive situation in ways that will enable them to plan lives that are fulfilling and satisfying to them,” said Yellen, an economist who previously served as Federal Reserve chair and is the first woman in U.S. history to hold the post of treasury secretary.

“One aspect of a satisfying life is being able to feel like you have the financial resources to raise a child, that the children you bring into the word are wanted, and you have the ability to take care of them,” she said.

Yellen’s analysis is supported by a number of studies, in what’s a politically contentious issue that’s set to feature prominently in the November midterm congressional elections.

“What research shows is that limiting access to abortion for women leads to higher unemployment, less ability to feed themselves and their families and greater chance of falling into poverty,” said Diana Foster, director of research at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, a program at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s not just their lives but also their families and children’s lives.”

Tuesday’s hearing took on a personal tone when Scott – a potential future chair of the Senate Banking panel if the GOP adds at least one seat to its number in November – invoked his own childhood.


“As a guy raised by a Black woman in abject poverty, I am thankful to be here,” said Scott, the first Black Republican senator from the deep South since the 1890s.

Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto later addressed Scott’s remarks saying, “You can’t know everyone’s circumstances.”

“I appreciate his circumstances and he is very proud of it – I think that’s fantastic. But why impose your experience and circumstances on others until you walk in their shoes?” Cortez Masto said.

Scott, in closing remarks for the GOP at the two-hour plus hearing, responded to the Nevada senator saying, “Why should I impose my circumstances on others? Well, because my circumstances are like so many others – millions and millions of kids being raised in poverty.”

He said that tax cuts that Republicans enacted in 2017 offered significant help to single mothers. His Republican colleague Steve Daines of Montana also said that low birth rates and an aging population posed a threat to economic prosperity.

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