Editor's note: Ahead of the 49th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision on Jan. 22, Angelus invited several pro-life advocates to weigh in on what efforts to protect the unborn should look like if the Court overturns Roe later this year. Their essays can be found here and in the Jan. 28 print issue of Angelus.
In 2019, 1 in 6 California households that had a baby reported a family income under the poverty line — $25,750 for a family of four. Put another way, about 96,000 households who welcomed a baby reported an annual income of $35,000 or less.
As every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend knows, those bundles of joy are priceless — but they are not costless. And for many women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, economic concerns start to weigh heavily.
But in order to preserve and advance the benefits that would come from the overturning of Roe v. Wade, those who are committed to the sanctity of human life must prepare for a new paradigm. Should the power to legalize abortion return to the states, the pro-life movement must prioritize protecting the unborn in both law and public policies.
This will require a dedicated, proactive strategy to make abortion less appealing, and the first way to do that is by committing to ease financial burdens on parents. Taking away the supply side of abortion is one thing; removing the demand is the other side of the equation.
Ethnographic work has shown that many poor, working- and middle-class women who choose abortion wish they didn’t have to; they just don’t see any way of making ends meet while adjusting to a new addition to the family.
Their choice to seek out an abortion is less about abstract ideals tied up in feminism or women’s equality than a perceived economic necessity, as the costs of feeding another mouth and keeping kids clothed and safe begin to feel crushing.
A post-Roe future will look different depending on what state you’re in, which means strategies will need to differ. Some traditionally conservative-leaning states already have laws on the books that would take effect if Roe is overturned, banning most abortions after 8 or 10 weeks.
California, on the other hand, has already codified state legal protections for abortion, as has New York and other progressive-leaning states. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already talked about dedicating state tax dollars to subsidize travel for out-of-state women who live in states with greater restrictions, going so far as proposing that California could become an abortion “sanctuary.”
Despite that grim prospect, pro-life advocates should encourage their elected officials to enact measures that will give families the financial breathing room to welcome the children they conceive and provide for them for the long haul.
Some more politically conservative pro-lifers might object to broader social-safety spending and instead argue that the best thing the state can do for pregnant women is provide them a credit on next year’s taxes. In reality, that strategy is of little utility for a single mom staring at a positive pregnancy test, a stack of bills, and a flyer for Planned Parenthood.
Others might argue that abortion rights supporters will never be satisfied with pro-life attempts to ante up social spending, since they will continually raise the bar on what “really” counts as supporting the child in the womb as well as out of it.
A more generous social safety net will not end those pressures overnight. But provisions like paid parental leave, an expanded child tax credit, more generous treatment of prenatal and postnatal care in Medicaid and private health insurance programs, and better access to safety-net programs aimed at women and children can help orient society in a more authentically pro-life direction.
A surprising example of a state moving to put its money where its pro-life mouth is came out of Texas last year. While much of the mainstream media focused on the state’s novel approach to curbing abortions, a legislative effort to extend Medicaid coverage for new moms to six months postpartum was successfully passed in a bipartisan manner.
In a state like California, where abortion is likely to stay legal for the foreseeable future, pro-life activists could look to be the junior partner in similar coalitions of strange bedfellows that help make unexpected motherhood a less financially daunting journey. One piece of low-hanging fruit could be funding home-visiting programs, which can reduce rates of maternal mortality.
On the national landscape, pro-life advocates could consider embracing a child benefit like the one proposed by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, which would consolidate the tangle of tax code benefits into a simple, monthly payment to parents.
They should also prioritize the elimination of marriage penalties in the Earned Income Tax Credit program, which effectively subsidizes cohabitation over marriage for low-income couples. This rewards couples for choosing a less stable form of union that can lead to a higher rate of abortion if the couple unexpectedly conceives.
As the pro-life movement contemplates the potential end of the Roe v. Wade regime, it runs the risk of being caught flat-footed. There is no point in waiting for the court’s decision this summer. The work of advancing public policy that seeks to make abortion not just illegal, but unthinkable, can — and must — begin today.