In a recent decision made by a majority of male justices, millions of women in America lost a vital right to their bodily autonomy. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, reproductive rights and legal uncertainty have returned to the political polarization of state politics.
Social conservatives are celebrating. They claim the future of the Right is now pro-life and pro-family. Yet conservative policymakers’ failure to support pro-family policies such as extended paid parental leave, the Romney Family Security Act, and Medicaid-backed maternal healthcare casts doubt on their claims.
In fact, the U.S. spends only 0.2 percent of its GDP on the well-being of children two years or younger. Other wealthy countries spend over three times more.
Why is it that America spends comparatively so little on their children, yet will now force force millions of women to give birth to children they do not want and may be unable to care for? The same Republican lawmakers who advocated for the reversal of Roe are the ones who oppose beneficial family policies.
The dissenting justices are aware of this and even highlighted that “a state-by-state analysis by public health professionals shows that states with the most restrictive abortion policies also continue to invest the least in women’s and children’s health.” It becomes exceedingly difficult to believe the Right’s insistence that their pro-life and pro-family values apply after the birth of a child.
In particular, Mississippi—where the Dobbs case originated— has a maternal mortality rate twice as high as the rest of the nation. Nonetheless, their legislature recently rejected a bill that would reduce their maternal mortality rate. The political Right proclaims to care about the well-being of women and children, but their policy objectives and legislative track record say otherwise.
Paid leave shouldn’t be so hard to solve
America remains one of the few developed countries without a fully guaranteed paid leave policy for new families. Surveys have shown that one in four women return to the workplace two weeks after giving birth. Without a federal, universal standard, access to paid leave is rare for most parents.
A large body of evidence shows the short- and long-term effects of taking time off after giving birth, such as increased breastfeeding and a decrease in low birth weight. An overwhelming 84 percent of Americans also support a longer federal paid leave for parents. Yet in November of last year, when the House Democrats introduced a federal paid leave plan, House Republicans immediately opposed the bill.
If social conservatives are serious about putting children first, now is their opportunity to start supporting childcare policy. While the Democrats’ plan for paid leave was not the strongest, if Republicans want to be the consensus pro-family party, they must put forward proposals or alternatives that are genuinely better than the Democratic alternatives. For example, in 2018, Massachusetts Democrats and Republican Governor Charlie Baker passed a law that allows parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave. Yet other Republicans have failed to take similar steps or propose a federal law of this same level.
Shutting down bills and refusing to pass policies that give parents the substantial leave needed is not pro-life. It’s merely pro-birth. A robust safety net for parents will allow them to take care of their children without worrying about losing their jobs and being unable to care for them.
Who killed the expanded CTC?
The temporary Child Tax Credit expansion was passed through the America Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and was heralded as a turning point in social policy with its ability to pull millions of children out of poverty. After aiding millions of American families in need, it was hoped that ARPA would be extended. However, Congress allowed the reforms to expire, which is estimated to have thrown 3.7 million children back into poverty.
There has been some movement on the right to promote a permanent reformed child benefit, such as the Family Security Act (FSA). If Republicans had truly wanted to come out on top as leaders in pro-family policies, they would have advocated for the Family Security Act, which had remarkable reforms like allowing monthly payments to start four months prior to the mother’s due date and would have cut child poverty by one-third. But these plans didn’t receive broad GOP support, and pushed Romney to re-introduce a watered-down version, the Family Security Act 2.0. While it is laudable that Senator Mitt Romney continues to advocate for an expanded child benefit, he was forced to pare down his proposal in hopes of gaining more support from fellow conservatives.
Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine notes that these “constraints [within the conservative movement] “include an absolute prohibition on new taxes or any cuts that would harm the rich. The sole exception is the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, which Republicans are willing to eliminate because it harms blue-state residents and creates an incentive to shrink their states’ governments down to red-state levels.” Taxes are worth paying in order to support families. There are members of the GOP who want to solve child poverty and put children first. If Republicans want to be the pro-life and pro-family party they claim to be, they need to start putting up a united front for the family plans that get released.
Let’s care for the mother during and after her pregnancy
As aforementioned, red-leaning states with the most restrictive abortion policies typically have the highest maternal mortality rate. Louisiana, another red-leaning state, has the highest maternal mortality rate nationwide, with 58.1 deaths per 100,000 births. Like Mississippi, this number is disproportionately worse for black mothers.
Louisiana is one of the 13 states with a “trigger law,” that will ban virtually all abortions now that Roe and Casey are reversed. Thankfully, a judge has temporarily blocked Louisiana’s law from taking effect, but the ban is a near certainty in the near future.
To help protect mothers during and after pregnancy, States like Louisiana and Mississippi should follow the lead of other states by expanding Medicaid for mothers. States run by Democrats are typically on the lower end of maternal mortality rates, with California being the lowest. This low mortality rate can also be attributed to being one of the many blue-leaning states that has full Medicaid expansion for mothers.
There have been a growing number of GOP-led states—Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina—that are temporarily allowing low-income women to be enrolled in Medicaid for up to a year after giving birth. Republicans who are quick to endorse forced birth should ensure maternal care is a right for all women.
The way forward
With generation-long legal protection now gone, how else can we continue protecting women and children? Adam Gurri makes a compelling case, suggesting “we need to push to codify the rights we care about not just in law, but in state constitutions.” This means continuing to vote for those actually in favor of pro-family policies and preserving reproductive rights, regardless of how minimal it may seem. The Republican Party cannot continue relying on empty rhetoric. Instead, they need to put their money where their mouths are and spend it on programs that help children and their families live full and healthy lives after birth.
Featured Image is Cotton sharecropper family, by Dorothea Lange