by Sophie Trist
As advocates of the consistent life ethic, our goal goes far beyond making abortion illegal. We want to make abortion unthinkable and unnecessary, to create a world that is equally responsive to the needs of pregnant people and their unborn children. In 1869, early feminist writer Mattie Brinkerhoff famously said, “When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society — so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been gravely wronged. But the question now seems to be, how shall we prevent this destruction of life and health?”
Pro-life and pro-choice people have grappled with Brinkerhoff’s final question for decades. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s Care for Her Act, soon to be introduced in the House, may be the first vital step toward a solution. Though this bill remains neutral on the abortion question, it looks like one of the most pro-life bills ever written. In explaining his reasons for introducing the Care for Her Act, Rep. Fortenberry says, “Are we big enough and generous enough to assure that a woman and her unborn child will never be abandoned? A new paradigm would invite us to see the fear as our fear, the sorrow as our sorrow, the pregnancy as our chance.” Fortenberry’s paradigm calls for precisely the culture of encounter, solidarity, and mutual aid that is vital for a world which seeks to include every single human being in human rights.
The Care for Her Act takes four concrete actions to help pregnant people and their children. First, it extends the child tax credit to unborn children, meaning that each expectant mother would get $3,600 to help cover the cost of prenatal care. Secondly, the bill would create a voluntary federal-state partnership to assess and catalogue all resources and programs available to pregnant people. Fortenberry hopes that having this comprehensive list of resources available to pregnant people will make them feel less alone, like the community is ready to stand up and support them and their children. The Care for Her Act would also provide federal grants for the advancement of education, job training, and housing for people with unplanned pregnancies, so no one feels compelled to choose between a child and the future they dreamed of. Last but not least, the bill would provide incentives for improving maternal and child health outcomes. Given that the United States has the poorest maternal health outcomes of the developed world, with women of color dying from pregnancy-related complications at astronomical rates, this bill is urgently needed and has the potential to literally save lives.
As columnist Henry Olson recently wrote in the Washington Post, politicians rarely talk about pregnant people outside of the abortion debate. This tendency denies the humanity of pregnant people, treating them as incubators rather than individuals with needs, dreams, and fears. It is time for our elected officials to put their money where their pro-life convictions are. Passing legislation to protect the unborn is not enough on its own, though that is a critical step to ending the violence of abortion. America needs human-centric policy like the Care for Her act to show real support and solidarity to people with unplanned pregnancies. Stale platitudes do not encourage pregnant people to choose life; economic and social support does.