By: Emma Jones
The Trump’s administration war on reproductive rights is often attributed to a religious disregard for women’s rights over their own bodies. However, economic reasons seem to be more powerful drivers for the current government’s attempts to restrict women’s access to birth control and abortion.
Economists have long warned that the U.S. economy is experiencing a shortage of skilled and unskilled workers, and a deeper shortage is projected for the next couple of decades.
This shortage will be much worse soon if President Trump succeeds in implementing two announced policies:
1. Deporting millions of undocumented workers and reducing the number that enter the country would significantly reduce the size of the current workforce. This measure would also significantly reduce the size of the future workforce, given that in average immigrants tend to have more children than Americans.
2. Trump also hopes to add “millions of jobs” to the economy by offering tax write-offs to American companies that move their production back to U.S. soil (tax breaks were proposed in the new tax bill). However, if many new jobs enter the country, the shortage of workers would be even larger and companies would find themselves in a “workers economy,” where they have to compete for workers and pay them higher salaries and better benefits.
Instead, the government decided that it is easier to just force women to have more children.
Of course, the government cannot order women to have more children or impose a quota per woman without violating human rights across the board (though Republican congressman Scott Allen recently said in Wisconsin that women should be forced to procreate for the sake of the labor market).
However, Republicans currently have the power to restrict women's access to birth control and abortion, a measure that would affect poorer women the most. Furthermore, it plans to eliminate birth control education for teenagers and replace it with propaganda for natural birth control methods, which have proved to produce more pregnancies. Evidently, teenagers are a strategic segment to manipulate, as they are approaching their prime child-rearing years.
In short, for the government, coercing women into having more children is cheaper then investing on an education system that produce the skilled workers the economy needs.
For businesses, pushing women into having more children is a cheap way to accumulate more profit by avoiding an “employees’ economy” that forces them to invest more on better pay, incentives and training.
For women, on the other hand, the economic consequences of having children are devastating, particularly when children are unplanned. Women’s income declines significantly after having a child, and continues to decline for the rest of their lives. Women are poorer than men across the nation, and a third of single-mother households live below the poverty line.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Government and businesses could create incentives like equal pay and maternity/paternity paid leave (as most countries in the world do) so that American women can have children in more humane economic conditions. Sadly, on the contrary, businesses recently convinced the Trump administration to drop equal pay measures meant to start in 2018.
Furthermore, the government actions against women’s reproductive rights effectively put women’s lives in danger. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world and is the only developed country where they are rising. Coincidentally, only 6% of “maternal and child health” grants actually go to the health of the mothers, revealing a societal disregard for women’s lives once they served their "purpose" of reproducing.
Making dangerous decisions about reproductive rights without the intervention of women's advocates and without seriously considering the consequences on women’s (and, therefore, families') lives is a major a violation of women’s economic rights, and a violation of their very right to life.
What this male-lead government is proposing amounts to robbing women of their portion of the economic pie – and in many cases their lives – so that (mostly male) business owners can accumulate more profit and male workers continue earning more, while the government fails miserably at representing the interests of the female constituents it is supposed to represent.
If women’s ability to procreate and do the associated workload is so important for the economy, then they should be economically incentivized and compensated rather than coerced and exploited. After all, compensating individuals’ skills and labor is what a capitalist economy and the American values are supposed to be all about.
Emma is a journalist based in Washington DC. She has worked investigating corruption, doing comparative research on anticorruption laws and practices around the world, and is currently doing a PhD focusing on journalism, accountability mechanisms and technology. @@intj_jones