Critics say the Right only Cares about Fetuses. They’re not Paying Attention.

Published June 28, 2022

Deseret News

With Roe v. Wade consigned to the history books, Republican lawmakers from Ohio to South Dakota to Mississippi have been talking about the next stage for the pro-life movement: building a public policy agenda that supports pregnant women and strengthens the family, which is the cornerstone of a healthy society.

As recently as seven years ago, The Wall Street Journal editorial board would attack proposals like Sen. Marco Rubio’s child tax credit expansion as “social engineering.” But by 2017, an expansion of the credit was included in President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and last year 49 Republican senators voted on an amendment offered by Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee that would have increased the credit to $4,200 for children under six for families that met an income requirement.

Just a few weeks ago, a monthly child benefit, with payments going to pregnant moms four months before birth, was introduced by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, along with North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Montana Sen. Steve Daines. Texas has invested $100 million in programs aimed at pregnant moms, while other red states have opted into expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage. While much work lies ahead, a pro-family economic agenda is picking up steam on the right.

Yet many progressives seem not to have noticed the ongoing realignment on the right. When the Roe decision was handed down, the cable news airwaves and social media were filled with talking heads mimicking comedian George Carlin, who famously said that the right only cares about babies until the moment they are born. If conservatives really cared about ending abortion, critics sniped, they’d sign onto a Scandinavian-style welfare state.

This argument is both ridiculous and cynical. One suspects that even if the entire GOP caucus had signed onto President Joe Biden’s failed “Build Back Better” agenda, many on the left would find new reasons to accuse conservatives of purported hypocrisy.

But those on the right reject progressives’ attempts to remake the social contract through massive spending not only because of the impact on the federal deficit (though, in an era of high inflation, this should certainly factor into our calculations). There’s more involved than that.

Buttressing the family as the cornerstone of a healthy society will require new ways of thinking about policy (and likely new spending); it will also require various trade-offs that require a thoughtful approach.

A national child care scheme, for example, might make life easier for some parents, but could set the expectation that both parents work full time, leaving many families worse off.

Being a pro-life, pro-family conservative requires negotiating these tensions. It certainly does not mean that conservatives must check their beliefs about the dignity of work or the importance of marriage at the door when talking about policies to make abortion less available and less necessary. But it should mean that we think creatively about where the state can intervene to better support pregnant women and families, and where it can unleash the power of the market to reduce the cost of living for parents.

One of the best examples of this on the right is Rubio’s plan. After the Dobbs decision came out, he released a suite of policies aimed at pregnant and new moms and their children.

Some, to his credit, Rubio had previously proposed before, such as a creative parental leave mechanism and ensuring that pregnant college students are aware of their rights and resources available to them. Others, like redirecting family planning funds to centers that provide aid and assistance to pregnant women, and ensuring faith-based providers are included in federal grant-making, fit into a traditional conservative approach. Still others push the envelope in creative ways, like community based mentoring initiatives for moms and an expansion of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

It’s the type of comprehensive approach to supporting moms during childbirth and beyond that goes beyond bumper sticker slogans and demonstrates a commitment to backing up pro-life rhetoric with pro-life policies. The Manhattan Institute’s Christopher Rufo, one of conservatism’s staunchest culture warriors, said the Rubio paid leave provision “should be a GOP priority.”

Personally, I’d swap out the child tax credit reforms in Rubio’s package for the Family Security Act proposed by Romney and his colleagues. The FSA is not only much more generous to low-income and working-class families, but aims at simplifying the tax code rather than just stacking atop what is already there. But as a whole, Rubio’s legislative package offers a way forward for congressional Republicans interested in standing up for pregnant moms. And I suspect his offerings won’t be the final word from a Republican senator on the matter, for conservatives are recognizing that a post-Roe America may not, on the surface, look considerably different than the one we live in today.

Even before Dobbs, many red states and rural areas had relatively few abortion providers. States on the coasts have already been talking about branding themselves as places where access to abortion will be as easy as possible.

To live up to the opportunity the monumental Dobbs decision offers, conservatives will have to lean into the ongoing political realignment, toward a working-class, pro-parent politics.

Under Roe, childbearing became a decision cut off from any broader societal responsibility — if mothers can choose not to carry a pregnancy to term, then society bore no inherent obligation to provide them the resources and support they need. “Don’t have children if you can’t afford it,” said some. “The key to women’s economic empowerment is being able to choose abortion,” said others. 

Those views are now inadequate. Protecting the unborn from lethal violence implies a moral obligation to ensure both mother and child receive the support they need — not just through pregnancy, but throughout the early years of childhood. A post-Roe America will see a slow but meaningful shift away from a purely individualist conception to parenthood, to one in which parents receive more intentional support from public policy, in law and most importantly, across the broader culture.

Legislative packages like Rubio’s, and pro-family tax policy like that on offer from Romney, provide a concrete way of putting those principles into action. For social conservatives leery of big government solutions but interested in building a culture of life, they will be an essential part of the puzzle.

Patrick T. Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where his work focuses on developing a robust pro-family economic agenda and supporting families as the cornerstone of a healthy and flourishing society.

Image: Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Patrick T. Brown is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where his work with the Life and Family Initiative focuses on developing a robust pro-family economic agenda and supporting families as the cornerstone of a healthy and flourishing society.

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