We are now in a post-Roe world. After fighting for nearly five decades on this topic, the pro-birth movement has finally achieved its main goal: a legislative victory that toppled the stronghold of a threat to the dignity of life.
Take careful notice of the “pro-birth” label. Those intimately involved with religious-affiliated circles in the “pro-life movement” have made clear for a long time their utter disregard for an authentic Whole Life agenda. Moreover, legislative enforcement of parenthood devoid of authentic domestic and social support is like cashing a pointless check. To ask women and couples to live out this vocation without financial and social infrastructure puts everyone at risk.
The time for excuses to avoid aiding families is over. Since many states have passed or are anticipated to advance trigger laws as a result of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, we have no time to waste in promoting the welfare of families. Though abortion has been legal for 50 years, I don't know of any major supplemental social policies proposed in the event that Roe was ever deemed unconstitutional, which is a pathetic reflection on those claiming to fight for “life”.
SCOTUS gave the green light for our new reality and we must act accordingly. We have to embrace a radical shift away from a culture of individualism and understand that a society functions best when compassion and interdependence are at its forefront. I've outlined effective policies and social areas that Catholics and people of goodwill must rally behind if we want to support those anticipating parenthood because abortion is outlawed.
Return of the Child Tax Credit
During the height of the COVID-19 global pandemic and the recession that accompanied it, the federal government increased the Child Tax Credit in the American Rescue Plan. This economic aid payment increased the $2,000 child tax credit to $3,000 per dependent ages 6 to 17, and from $2,000 to $3,600 for children age 5 or younger. Most families received $250-$300 per child for six months.
Overall, this economic relief payment had a major impact. The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University demonstrated that the economic relief helped save about 3.6 million from poverty. In addition, many families used the funds on necessities such as shelter and food. Unfortunately, this measure didn’t have longevity. Partisan gridlock and intra-party division caused the payments to fizzle out. As a result, the monthly child poverty rate increased from 12.1 percent in December 2021 to 17 percent in January 2022.
We must do a better job at ensuring this economic relief comes back to assist working low-income and middle-class families. Without it—especially today, with inflation in all areas—a couple of hundred dollars could make all the difference in dealing with gas bills, food costs, and rent prices.
Early childhood investments
It goes without saying that if one is going to have a child, finding suitable and competent childcare is key. However, the horrendous and rising cost of daycare and the turnover challenges among teachers and caregivers are significant factors facing families across the board.
After former president Barack Obama advanced sweeping childhood investments during his second term, a national dialogue about high-quality daycare and early childhood programs was set in motion. The conversation continued when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton proposed her own bold early childhood education plan. Recently, the childcare fervor was replicated with President Joe Biden, the American Rescue Plan, and its demand for further childcare commitments.
Research from various state programs suggests that high-quality pre-K investment can have invaluable returns in areas such as achievement, literacy, decreased grade retention, and on-time graduation. In a time when child care costs for children under 5 represent between 17% and 20% of the average American worker’s annual earnings, we must continue to invest in this area to assist families and ensure children thrive.
When all levels of government take action to support the educational needs of infant and preschool-aged children, the results can only be positive for the future of the country. In addition, a truly pro-life policy would focus on working poor, working-class single parents, and couples to help them on the path to financial freedom.
Having the ability to bond with a newborn and undergo postpartum recovery is crucial for women and couples. In many cases across the country, the two- to four-day hospital stay is the closest thing to parental leave a person will ever experience. Many don't get paid during this period, forcing a return to work while the body is still recovering from childbirth—potentially creating serious medical complications.
Currently, the United States is one of the few countries in the world (and the only Western country) that does not offer some form of mandated parental leave. This policy not only harms workers and leaves them without adequate medical support, but it demonstrates a hostility to mothers and couples.
Sadly, even in the Catholic Church, many dioceses and archdioceses across the country don't adequately support the family in this area either. In order to effectively lead in this area, the US Catholic hierarchy has to clean house so it can implore the nation to follow. Until then, the current rhetoric will ring hollow.
Addressing income inequality
When we talk about income inequality, there are several factors to consider, such as addressing the racial wealth gap and approaches by which the nation can best support the Black community. Our nation can begin to address the lingering historical weight of slavery and systemic discrimination by implementing student loan forgiveness, which would impact Black borrowers significantly and help close the widening wealth gap. Another helpful start would be offering opportunities for small businesses to have access to funds and opportunities that have historically been denied to them.
That said, one can’t talk about economic inequality without serious dialogue and a plan regarding reparations. Even in our Catholic tradition, the Society of Jesus has committed to rectifying the heinous wrong of slavery by way of economic support. Though this is just one religious order, it may serve as a model for how the American Church can aid the national dialogue around moving African Americans toward economic freedom and self-determination.
Additionally, an increase in the minimum wage would also go a long way. Simply implementing a $15 national standard would give nearly 40% of Black wage earners a pay increase. This would result in millions of families being lifted from poverty and potentially having a safety net for extra expenses related to children.
Simply put, the overturning of Roe has caused an ever-widening chasm in the country. I take an empathetic position toward both the pro-life and pro-choice movements, but I lament because I don’t feel heard regarding this sensitive topic. While I don’t believe that state-sanctioned birth is a remedy, our new normal must feature a culturally sensitive and relevant universal health care system that seeks to eradicate embedded disparities.
As states scramble to codify or ban abortion, at the federal level we’re in a new era that leaves open a huge opportunity to invest in the much-needed infrastructure supporting families. Because this new phase requires a macro-level shift to aid babies and their parent(s), the Church and country can and should embrace a call to action for economic and social justice.
We have to do away with the raggedy and false notion of pulling yourself up from your own bootstraps. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once rebutted:
“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
Holy Mother Church affirms both the dignity of life and our obligation to work for justice. I am pro-life and committed to ensuring this agenda comes to fruition, because lives are on the line. May we all work to aid those in need and treat others with compassion and mercy.
Efran Menny is a husband, father, and small-time writer. He’s a passionate educator, student of social work, and host of the "Saintly Witnesses" podcast.