Supporting the family in a post-Roe world
We need an innovative and holistic mindset to combat pressing challenges facing women and children today.
By now you’ve no doubt heard the news and felt the shockwave: The U.S. Supreme Court, through Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, has overturned Roe v. Wade and its constitutional right to abortion. In response, many states (including my current home of Arkansas) acted quickly to ban abortion in all but the most serious of medical circumstances. We are, in the context of abortion policy, back to the pre-1973 landscape.
As pro-life Americans celebrated and offered prayers of praise and thanksgiving for the Court’s decision in Dobbs, some Christians urged legislatures to move toward greater social safety net spending. For example, author and former Obama administration official Michael Wear said the following:
Calls like this attracted their share of criticism from conservatives skeptical of government intervention. Consider this, from the Babylon Bee’s Kyle Mann:
Or this, from former Trump administration official William Wolfe (from just after the decision’s draft opinion leaked last month):
Or this nuanced thought from scholar James Wood:
Wood is, for my money, one of the most insightful and thought-provoking observers of the intersection of faith and public life today. His article in First Things about his evolution on Tim Keller’s cultural engagement strategy kicked off what is likely to be the year’s most illuminating dialogue about Christians and politics.
This is why his comment caught my attention. Rehabilitating the family unit should absolutely be the top priority for Christians rightly focused on promoting a flourishing and thriving society. This is a foundational concern. But as we encourage this we must also be open to complementary, immediate solutions to problems that have arisen precisely because of the decline of the family. And yes, some of these solutions must come from the government.
Wood says thriving families need fathers and churches and the like. As a child of divorce and a father myself, I know this well. Government programs can never act as the salve for a deep cultural malaise. But “a few hundred bucks more a month,” as we’ve seen recently, can make a significant difference for those on the precipice.
Dismissing government programs that would ease the burden on mothers and babies as “socialist” isn’t productive in a world where Roe has been relegated to “the ash heap of history.” I would advise pro-life Christians to consider this non-definitive list of policies that would support the unborn, the newborn, and their mothers as a complement to individual initiatives and behaviors:
Subsidize pre- and post-natal care. Having a baby is expensive. In Arkansas, the average hospital delivery costs about $15,000, right around the national average. Mothers and families should not incur medical debt or drain their savings in exchange for bringing a child into the world. In addition to giving expecting families peace of mind and allowing them to allocate their finances in other ways, subsidizing the cost of pregnancy and delivery (as well as early medical care for babies) could also encourage people to have more kids, something that would benefit the country in the long run. The United States of America is among the wealthiest countries in the world. We should invest in maternal and pre-and post-natal health care like the critical infrastructure it is.
Expand and reform the Child Tax Credit. The Biden administration’s temporary expansion and transformation of the Child Tax Credit in last year’s pandemic relief package was the biggest tangible boon to American families in decades. Families received several monthly payments based on how many children they had. Now, this wasn’t a perfect system (the refundable part of the credit actually shrank in size relative to previous years, causing a headache for some taxpayers), but research showed the monthly payments unequivocally helped lift children and families out of poverty.
The CTC expansion was not renewed this year, but there’s hope on the horizon. Utah’s Mitt Romney and other Republicans in the Senate have proposed a more permanent overhaul to this system, providing monthly payments to families while incentivizing marriage in the tax code, among other things. I’m intently watching whether this proposal (and others like it) gains traction in the post-Roe political landscape.
Incentivize and streamline domestic adoptions. There are hundreds of thousands of children in the American foster care system. Adoption is often expensive and complicated. The government should prioritize policies making it easier for people who want to adopt domestically to be able to adopt, while maintaining and strengthening processes that protect and safeguard children. Tax credits, allowances, and the like could make adoption a reality for more people.
Keep dads involved. Research shows that children raised in two-parent homes fare much better later in life than those raised in single-parent homes. That said, we live in a fallen and sinful world, and there are situations where a father is simply not there (and yes, in some cases, that’s for the best). Still, government should make it more likely that dads have skin in the game. One way to do this is beefing up and strictly enforcing child support requirements, so that men cannot so easily decide to avoid accountability for their decisions. Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen shared some other possible solutions with New York Times columnist Ezra Klein, available here (beginning at about the 32 minute mark).
All this does not mean Christians should blindly support any form of government spending proposed in the name of supporting children, women, and families. These policies cost money, and while they are the best things our society could possible spend money on, discernment and thoughtful skepticism are still warranted. Nor does it mean these programs must come only from the federal government. States, as laboratories of democracy, should be experimenting with different policies and solutions that best fit their citizens’ needs.
I am also not suggesting that Christians should view these policies as replacements for personal convictions and actions. Nor am I endorsing the largely pro-choice argument that Christians and churches have been lacking in their personal and collective support for women and children. Research shows religious Americans—including Christians—are among the most likely to adopt and foster children, answering the call from James 1:27 in the most demonstrable of ways. And anecdotally, visit any church and ask the pastor about their pro-life ministry, and you’re likely to be shown food pantries, collections for pregnancy resource centers, and much, much more. The misguided argument that most evangelicals don’t actually care about the unborn and their mothers, and oppose abortion solely to subjugate women, is just that: Misguided.
None of this is likely to turn down the political temperature in a culture still shocked by Roe’s demise. But that’s not the point. Rather, the focus must be on offering real support to babies, mothers, and their families. This should come from us individually, as Christians. It should come from our church bodies. It should come from related specialized nonprofits, like pregnancy resource centers. And yes, given what is at stake, it should come from the government, too.
With Roe gone, conservative Christians must move beyond instinctual reticence to certain government programs. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment for the pro-life movement. Let’s answer the call, in thought, in word, and in deed.