Who bears responsibility for government-sanctioned forced birth? How about the anti-abortion legislators in 26 states who have either banned abortion entirely or made it so onerous for women to end a pregnancy that we are entering a new medieval era of state-imposed reproduction with all the hardship that comes from bringing an unintended child into the world.
Conservative politicians who worked so hard to overturn Roe v Wade blithely say women can give up their newborns for adoption, no questions asked, and they’ll put more money into foster care. More wishful thinking than realistic policy, these fixes don’t come anywhere near meeting the needs. We already have a foster care system that is near the breaking point with more than 400,000 kids waiting to be placed or reunited with their parents, many of them with special needs.
If we’re going to have forced births, it is not unreasonable to ask the government to cover the costs. We can call it forced socialism with the burden on the lawmakers whose proselytizing got us into this mess.
“The pressure is on them to try to explain what they’re going to do with an increase in women carrying children they didn’t intend to carry to term—and put their money where their mouth is,” says Stuart Butler, a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution.
Before joining Brookings in 2014, Butler spent 35 years at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, where he specialized in health policy and gained a reputation as a “bleeding heart conservative.” He remains at odds with his former colleagues on the right, who oppose most spending on social programs, telling The Daily Beast, “If there’s a big increase in children with big needs, it is absolutely an obligation of the states to pass legislation to deal with those needs.”
Watching a representative from an anti-abortion group make the case in a television interview that overturning Roe is “the first step in investing in children,” Butler was skeptical. “I’m scratching my head because the states most likely to restrict or ban abortion are at the lowest end when it comes to providing for children.” A dozen of the most affected states won’t even expand Medicaid, purposefully denying hundreds of thousands of their poorest citizens basic health care.
Anti-abortion groups are at a crossroads. Do they commit their time and effort to gaining more restrictions against abortion? Or do they further their spoken commitment to children by lobbying state legislatures for funding to assist women forced by their circumstances to give birth and help them provide for their children.
A new Brookings study finds that states with the most restrictive abortion laws spend the least on social programs despite all the politicians’ rhetoric about saving babies. “It’s time to act on their fine words about children, and if they don’t, it will become obvious,” says Belle Sawhill, a co-author of the report and a senior fellow at Brookings who specializes in families and children.
An increased reliance on foster care favored by conservative lawmakers is not the answer, Sawhill told The Daily Beast, noting “a pretty strong correlation between being in foster care as a teenager and teenage pregnancy.” Foster care ends abruptly in most states at age 18, with no bridge to adulthood.
Given the poor track record in most of these anti-abortion states on just about every metric of health care and outcomes for children, the post-Roe outlook appears bleak for this vulnerable population. Sawhill predicts a big increase in inequality of opportunity as she cites some uncomfortable truths. “The rates of unplanned pregnancy are higher if you’re Black, poor and less educated,” says Sawhill, “Five times higher for Black women than white women.”
The Brookings report concludes that “one clear result” of overturning Roe “will be to expose America’s children to even more unequal childhoods and lifetime opportunities than currently exist—unless those who support the Supreme Court’s recent decision advocate for stronger social policies at the state and federal level to make sure that the welfare of children is supported not just before, but also after, birth.”
The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, will release its report in July with a similar litany of statistics that show things in a post-Roe world will only get worse. Lauren Hoffman, CAP’s associate director for women’s economic security, told The Daily Beast that TRAP laws–Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers–cost states and local economies $105 billion in 2021. Over half of the anti-abortion states do not have minimum wages beyond $7.25, and none have paid family and medical leave laws. “These states are not helping women and families,” says Hoffman.
So much for the anti-abortion right stepping up to compensate for the disruption they’ve caused in the lives of women and men too who have been playing by rules put in place nearly a half-century ago. The Right to Life movement advocates for life from conception to birth, and they’ve never advanced any interest beyond that.
“The most restrictive states are going to do nothing to alleviate the enormous suffering they’ll cause,” says Matt Bennett with Third Way, a centrist Democrat group. “It’s incredibly farfetched to say we can make foster care anything other than the dumping ground and moral catastrophe it is now.”
The road ahead will be determined by politics, and the politics will be determined not only by the data, but by anecdotes as we approach the midterm elections. The stories of the women facing unreasonable government mandates will move people first to sadness for what didn’t have to be, and then to anger at the politicians who turned the clock back. And because this is still a democracy, voting is one thing every citizen can do, and while our votes can’t change the Superme Court’s ruling, they reflect a lived reality that can’t be ignored.