The pro-life movement has lots of heroes and heroines, sung and unsung alike, writes Russell…
Democrats, Republicans and a big opportunity for the pro-life movement
The pro-life Biden administration?
Well, in one essential and important sense, surely not. This administration has capitulated to abortion extremists who have taken control of the Democratic Party such that any restriction on abortion that might help us join the rest of the civilized world are simply ruled out. As his recent executive order once again showed, when it comes to prenatal justice as a matter of equal protection of the law, this administration is among the worst there has ever been. In the United States or elsewhere. Pro-lifers must do all we can to defeat this kind of abortion extremism and defend the most vulnerable human beings among us.
But when it comes to social support for prenatal children, and for women, and for families, well, it must be said the response of the administration hasn’t been half bad. Indeed, in fairness, it must be said that it has been quite good. In a very real sense, it is a profoundly pro-life response.
Consider, for instance, the five priorities the White House has under the auspices of its White House Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis:
• Increasing access to and coverage of comprehensive high-quality maternal health services, including behavioral health services.
• Ensuring women giving birth are heard and are decision-makers in accountable systems of care.
• Advancing data collection, standardization, harmonization, transparency and research.
• Expanding and diversifying the perinatal workforce.
• Strengthening economic and social supports for people before, during and after pregnancy.
Among other things, this includes extended postpartum coverage, investment in rural maternal care, better trained providers, increased access to doulas and midwives, and stronger workplace protections for mothers.
The Biden administration, admirably, is taking a so-called “whole-of-government strategy” to attempt to move in these directions, mobilizing over a dozen federal agencies to try to meet these goals. Significantly, they are working on lobbying Congress and the states to move to meet these goals as well.
Could the pro-life movement (*gasp*) cooperate with the Biden administration in their efforts to achieve these goals?
Certain constituencies will react negatively to such an idea. Maybe primary among them will be the yuck factor. “How can we cooperate with an administration which is so terrible on prenatal justice and other issues?” such folks might ask. But for a response to this concern, one need look no further than how so many pro-lifers (and especially pro-life Catholics) held their nose and cooperated with the Trump administration in achieving their goals. We can hold our nose again.
Another negative reaction will come from pro-lifers who have been beholden to Republicans for so long that they can’t see their pro-life vocation (or fundraising) apart from supporting the GOP. But it should go without saying that there is nothing about being the Republican Party that is essentially pro-life. Pro-lifers have worked with Republicans only because they were the party willing to advance the causes we believed in. If Democrats are supporting programs we believe in, then we should be willing to work with them for exactly the same reasons.
And time is of the essence. The United States, the richest country in the history of civilization, has maternal mortality rates that would be described as embarrassing if they weren’t so utterly horrific. Vulnerable women and children need our help, especially those who are Black, Native American and those who live in rural areas. Each day pro-lifers refuse to work with those who would cooperate with us to help these populations is a day during which more vulnerable women and children will die. It is truly an issue deeply connected to the sanctity of life.
One of the many happy results of the fall of Roe and Casey is that, because this central goal of the pro-life movement’s working with Republicans over the past several decades has been achieved, we are even less beholden to the economic assumptions that the GOP had during this time. Many different kinds of conservative and pro-life groups are rethinking the libertarian instinct that “the government which governs best governs least.” In addition, the rise of populism even within the Republican Party itself portends a radical rethinking of these economic dogmas.
Mitt Romney, for instance, is proposing huge child allowances, including those which will kick in before the baby is born. Tim Scott has creative proposals for helping women and families with child care. Marco Rubio is trying to find a way to guarantee women paid family leave. These are small steps, steps that admittedly have a hangover from the economic assumptions of the previous era, but the party that for so many years was dominated by libertarian, small-government thinking is in the early stages of changing its stripes. And pro-lifers must keep the pressure on, pushing the GOP in the directions we want them to go.
And moving in this direction would allow conservatives and the pro-life movements more broadly to reflect a more comprehensive pro-life vision offered by Catholic social doctrine. Pope St. John Paul II was perhaps the greatest champion for this vision: He never once capitulated on prenatal justice, but consider this striking passage from his Laborem Exercens (all emphasis is in the original):
“In this context it should be emphasized that, on a more general level, the whole labor process must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person and his or her forms of life, above all life in the home, taking into account the individual’s age and sex. It is a fact that in many societies women work in nearly every sector of life. But it is fitting that they should be able to fulfil their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society. The true advancement of women requires that labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role” (No. 19).
A pro-life movement with the above values and goals could have been considered a pipe dream just a few years ago. But now, with both the Dobbs decision and the major shifts taking place in the Republican Party, the pro-life movement has entered a new phase — something I’ve been calling Pro-Life 3.0.
The pro-life movement before Roe was politically heterogeneous and, therefore, creative and nimble. That changed when, during the 2.0 version, the movement became dependent on connections with Republicans and especially Republican economic assumptions and (in a related story) libertarian donors.
But this a new moment for the pro-life movement. A moment when, without budging an inch on equal protection of the law for prenatal children, we are more empowered than we have been in decades to also work to change the underlying social and economic structures that push so many vulnerable women and families to “choose” abortions that they don’t want to have.
Let’s get to work.
Charles C. Camosy is an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University and the author of “Resisting Throwaway Culture” (New City Press, $19.95).