Anti-abortion pundits were furious after Janet Yellen pointed out that reproductive freedom is essential to economic freedom

The disingenuous backlash to Yellen’s comments is an attempt to drown out the real consequences that a loss of reproductive rights has on Americans.

Black and white photo of Janet Yellen on a purple and green background

Citation Media Matters / Andrea Austria

Right-wing media figures mischaracterized statements made by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during recent Senate testimony regarding what she described as “very damaging effects on the economy” from the Supreme Court’s pending decision to overturn Roe v. Wade

As ABC News reported, “At a Senate Banking Committee hearing about a financial report on the U.S. economy, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., asked [Yellen] what reversing the ruling would mean economically for the country.” In response, Yellen told the senators that overturning Roe and “eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back by decades.” She went on to say that “Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care including abortion helped lead to increased labor force participation” and pointed to research showing that access to reproductive freedom “had a favorable impact on the well-being and earnings of children.” She also correctly pointed out that restrictions on abortion rights would disproportionately affect women who are “low-income and often Black" and who "aren’t in a position to be able to care for children.”

In response, conservative online pundits and cable news commentators accused Yellen of advocating for eugenics, claiming she was endorsing the killing of “undesirables” and deeming Black women “too stupid” to raise a child. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) incredulously asked Yellen if she had said that “ending the life of a child is good for the labor force participation rate.” 

Yellen was pointing out the tangible impact that a reversal of reproductive rights would have on individuals. Some of the most commonly cited reasons for seeking an abortion include feelings of being financially unprepared to parent, a need to focus on existing children, and the belief that a pregnancy and child rearing would interfere with future plans.

Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that denying people abortion access leads to increased reliance on government aid programs and sustained periods of financial distress, including increases in debt, bankruptcies, and evictions for women who were denied abortion services. Researchers have also found that access to reproductive planning services has “reduced the number of children who were unwanted,” “reduced cases of child neglect and abuse,” and “reduced the number of children who lived in poverty.” 

But in their attacks, conservative commentators conveniently ignored the nuances of Yellen’s argument: 

  • On a May 10 segment of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson said that according to Yellen, “the real problem with the U.S. economy is that women aren’t having enough abortions.”  [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 5/10/22
  • During a May 10 segment on The Ingraham Angle, host Laura Ingraham claimed that “Yellen believes killing the unborn is a boon to the economy” and that she was “going off the rails on the abortion issue.” In response, former Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway said Yellen was “embarrassing,” adding, “She goes and channels her inner Margaret Sanger” (a reference to the accusation that reproductive rights advocate Margaret Sanger believed in racial cleansing and eugenics). [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 5/10/22
  • On the May 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Charles Payne characterized Yellen’s comments as “her philosophy that young, poor people, mostly young Black women, should not have children,” adding if the country had gone with this idea, “there would hardly be any Black people in the country.” Payne ended his mischaracterization of Yellen by stating, “She’s presenting though a mathematical formula that suggests a utopia, an economic utopia, but that wouldn’t have any Black people in it. It’s mind-boggling. That’s essentially what the game plan is.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/11/22]
  • On Jesse Watters Primetime, right-wing radio host and former NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch argued Yellen’s comments were indicative of “big government” telling women and “especially Black women” they’re “too stupid” to raise a child. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 5/10/22]
  • Daily Wire host Matt Walsh claimed Yellen is calling for eugenics, “getting rid of the undesirables … for the sake of the economy.”  [The Daily Wire, The Matt Walsh Show, 5/10/22]
  • Conservative show host Sonnie Johnson accused Yellen of saying “the black poors shouldn't have kids because it'll hurt the economy.” [Twitter, 5/11/22]
  • Conservative radio host Dana Loesch mischaracterized Yellen’s comments as her stating that “it's better to be dead than poor.” [Twitter, 5/10/22]
  • Right-wing personality Benny Johnson called Yellen a “hack” for allegedly suggesting that “abortion is good for the economy.” [Twitter, 5/11/22]
  • Lydia Leitermann, producer of Tim Pool’s podcast Timcast IRL, mischaracterized Yellen’s statement as a  position that “women need to kill children to help the economy.” [Twitter, 5/11/22]
  • Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk tweeted that Yellen openly called for “the killing of ‘Undesirables’ because it might hurt economic growth.” [Twitter, 5/11/22]
  • Daily Caller writer Dylan Housman tweeted that Yellen implied that “women need to be childless to better serve the economic machine.” [Twitter, 5/10/22]
  • Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Mary Vought claimed that Yellen viewed “killing the unborn as a commodity.” [Twitter, 5/11/22]
  • Washington Times columnist Tim Young called Yellen a “crazy aunt who smells like cat pee” for allegedly claiming “abortions help the economy.” [Twitter, 5/12/22]
  • The Proud Boys chapter for Philadelphia wrote on Telegram that Yellen wants to “butcher more American babies,” because it would be good for the economy. [Telegram, 5/11/22]

The disingenuous backlash to Yellen’s comments is an attempt to drown out the real consequences that a loss of reproductive rights has on the lives of Americans. 

It reflects the long-standing dissonance between conservatives’ opposition to abortion rights and their unwillingness to acknowledge the postpartum reality of child rearing in America. The end of Roe and the anticipated tightening of restrictions on reproductive freedom will impact the life trajectory of American parents, particularly their ability to achieve higher education and financial stability. The unwillingness to acknowledge that reality speaks to the insincerity of conservatives' “pro-life” posturing.