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date: 19 July 2024

The Economics of Abortion Policylocked

The Economics of Abortion Policylocked

  • Damian ClarkeDamian ClarkeEconomics, University of Chile, University of Exeter


The economic literature on abortion policy broadly is broad, studying abortion reforms that have occurred over the past two centuries, with a concentration of studies examining policy reform over the 20th and 21st centuries. The literature has examined a range of policies: both those which restrict access and those which legalize elective abortion; but within these two broad classes, the precise nature of policy reform can vary greatly. Policy reforms studied range from specific types of limits or financial barriers restricting access for particular age groups to policies which entirely criminalize or legalize elective abortion. Policies have been studied that restrict or relax individual access as well as impose regulations on abortion providers. The economic literature on abortion reform has illuminated a number of clear links, showing that increased availability of abortion decreases rates of unintended births, and vice versa when access to abortion is limited. These effects have been shown to have downstream impacts in many domains such as family formation, educational attainment, and labor market attachment, as well as impacts on health, empowerment, and broader measures of well-being such as life satisfaction and exposure to intimate partner violence.

There is mixed evidence when examining the impact that abortion reform has on cohorts of children exposed to reform variation. Across contexts abortion reforms have been shown to affect the composition of cohorts of children via differential rates of access to abortion, though this compositional effect is context-dependent, and as such a number of different patterns have been documented. Compositional effects of policies often also have been shown to have a geographic component, given that certain types of individuals are more easily able to travel to access abortion where restrictions are in place in one area but not in another.

Much of what is known in the economic literature on abortion is gleaned from country-level case studies and cohort variation in access, with this evidence generated from a relatively small number of countries in which reforms have occurred and data is available. In general, much of the literature available covers low fertility and industrialized settings. Additional evidence from other settings would allow for a broader understanding of how abortion reform affects well-being.


  • Health, Education, and Welfare Economics
  • Labor and Demographic Economics
  • Law and Economics
  • Public Economics and Policy

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