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An ambitious, bipartisan pro-life legislative agenda

AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File
FILE – With the U.S. Capitol in the background, anti-abortion demonstrators march toward the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life on Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington. Groups advocating for professional social workers and abortion rights said they have succeeded in forcing a small Ohio city to significantly narrow its ban on conducting or recommending abortions and so have ended their legal challenge.

Ahead of the “March For Life” rally in Washington, D.C., last month, anti-abortion advocates continued to debate post-Roe v. Wade strategies for their movement. “Quite frankly,” declared Carol Tobias, President of the National Right to Life Committee, “this is all kind of new and there’s so much up in the air. It’s kind of like throwing darts at that board to see where it’s going to land.”

Most conservative activists advocate a national ban on abortions after six weeks and/or similar restrictions in each state; the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, recently passed by the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, would subject doctors performing abortions to criminal penalties; there’s also support for restricting medication abortions and criminalizing the mailing of abortion pills across state lines. And they’re looking to recruit a “fight-ready” anti-abortion 2024 presidential candidate.

There is some evidence, however, of support for a more expansive strategy. The goal of “Her Plan,” an initiative of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, according to West Virginia coordinator Kayla Kessinger (who is also a Republican member of the state’s House of Delegates), is “to make sure vulnerable women facing unexpected pregnancies have the resources, support and services they need through pregnancy and beyond to really empower them to choose life for themselves and their babies.”

An ambitious pro-life agenda that protects children in vulnerable populations is urgently necessary in the United States. And it is likely to attract support across the political and ideological spectrum.

The United States ranks 50th of 195 countries in infant mortality, three times higher than Japan, more than twice as high as Sweden. Each year, 300,000 babies in the United States are born weighing less than 5.5 pounds, placing our nation 31st in the world, 20 slots behind China. More than 20 percent of children (about 11 million kids) in the United States live in poverty; that’s higher than Mexico. The average among OECD countries is 12.8 percent. In places like Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, and Sweden, it’s less than 10 percent. Child poverty is linked to hunger, malnutrition, housing insecurity, lower academic achievement, behavioral problems, and increased crime rates. With 17 deaths per 100,000 live births, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, far more than double most of them. Every developed country except the United States guarantees at least one postpartum home visit by a nurse or midwife.

In the United States, one out of every 17 children spends some time in foster care; 50 percent of foster children do not graduate from high school on time; 48 percent of girls in foster care become pregnant by age 19; 70 percent of individuals in the juvenile justice system and 33 percent of homeless adults have spent time in foster care. Foster children are four times more likely than other children to attempt suicide.

States with the most restrictive abortion policies, it’s worth noting, have very high child poverty and infant mortality rates. Most of them have not expanded Medicaid, which funds 42 percent of births in the United States and supports prenatal care (without which pregnant women are five times more likely to die from birth-related causes), case management, doula services, and some postpartum assistance.

Mississippi, where 23.5 percent of the population lives in a “maternal health care desert,” leads the United States in “overall preventable mortality.”

Americans should agree that these realities are unacceptable in the world’s wealthiest nation.

Here’s a first cut at bi-partisan pro-life legislation:

Reinstate the annual tax credit of $3,600 for children under 6 and $3,000 for those aged 6 -17. Although the law lifted almost 3 million children out of poverty in 2021, and cut the overall rate by almost 50 percent, Republicans blocked renewal of it. Polls show 75 percent of Americans support the child tax credit.

Expand Medicaid coverage in every state and offer an affordable “public option” alternative to private health insurance; 68 percent of Americans support the public health option.

Guarantee paid medical and family leave to working mothers and fathers, along the lines provided by every other developed nation; 73 percent of Americans support the policy.

Provide government-funded universal pre-K, an initiative favored by 71 percent of Americans.

Address the nationwide shortage of ob-gyns and mid-wives.

Raise the minimum wage, which remains $7.25 an hour in some states, to a “living wage;” 77 percent of Americans think the federal minimum wage is too low.

Develop alternatives to mass incarceration and the death penalty.

At the March for Life rally, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, thanked Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, author of the majority opinion reversing Roe v. Wade, for giving Americans “an engraved invitation to protect life.” Smith no doubt knows, however, that about 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most cases. And that differences between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” advocates are not likely to be resolved anytime soon, if ever.

And so, abortion wars rage.

This may be the moment for Americans to coalesce around policies providing their more vulnerable fellow citizens with “the resources, support and services they need” to live better, healthier, and more productive lives.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags Abortion in the United States abortion medication abortion pills Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act Child poverty Child tax credit Chris Smith crime rates Foster care in the United States housing insecurity hunger Infant mortality infant mortality rate Malnutrition March for Life maternal mortality maternal mortality rate Medicaid expansion Minimum wage in the United States minimum wage increase National Right to Life Committee paid family and medical leave Paid Family Leave Prenatal care Pro-life movement Roe v Wade Roe v. Wade teen pregnancy universal pre-K

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