“Why not love them both?” has been a message of the pro-life movement for many years, expressing a commitment to both the unborn child and his or her mother who may be considering abortion.
For decades, the movement has put its money where its mouth is, by sponsoring and funding thousands of volunteer-staffed pregnancy aid centers offering free pregnancy tests, baby clothes, access to prenatal care and social services, and other support.
Now that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has reopened a fierce national debate on abortion, much more is needed. Pro-life advocates are urging legislators to expand financial and social support for pregnant and parenting women and their families.
Leading the way is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), whose “Walking with Moms in Need” project for many months has called on all parishes to assess and improve local pregnancy assistance.
The conference, which supported the original Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, has stepped up its call for this program to include paid leave.
Even before Dobbs, the bishops had endorsed expanding the child tax credit and making it refundable for lower-income families and passing a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requiring reasonable accommodations for employees while they are pregnant.
On Oct. 26, the chairmen of four USCCB committees wrote to Congress to promote what St. John Paul II called “radical solidarity” with mothers, their born and unborn children, and families. Their recommendations include these measures and many others, including elimination of the “marriage penalty” in the tax code.
Other pro-life leaders have not been idle.
The University of Notre Dame’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture has spearheaded a “Women and Children First Initiative” to research and promote the most effective ways to assist pregnant and parenting women in need.
Another group has issued a “Joint Statement on building a post-Roe future” with similar goals.
The Ethics and Public Policy Center is commonly associated with conservative politics, while the second statement was co-authored by some seen as more liberal, such as Professor Charles Camosy.
But their proposals overlap extensively with each other and with the bishops’ goals. The authors realize that these goals are easier to state as general concepts than to turn into legislative language. (Full disclosure: I’ve endorsed both statements.)
The greatest challenge of all, however, will be to bring these proposals into a political climate in which demonizing one’s political opponents is a virtue and bipartisanship is seen as betrayal.
Among the legislative goals, for example, is improved support for pro-life pregnancy aid centers. But some abortion activists have vandalized or tried to destroy these centers — and Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has declared that “we need to shut them down all around the country.”
President Biden’s recent statement that promoting abortion will be his first priority if his party takes full control of the Senate included not a word about supporting other options for pregnant women.
Yet those options will be essential in states restricting abortion, so women will know where they can find help. And they will be essential in states promoting abortion, so these women won’t feel social and economic pressure toward thinking that abortion is their only choice.
One advantage of divided government is that it may get politicians of both parties to finally sit down and talk about this.
Richard Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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