Abortion Politics and Practice after Roe
On May 2, 2022, Politico, an online magazine, published a leaked draft majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which tests Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Written by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the Dobbs opinion holds that Roe v. Wade “was egregiously wrong from the start” and therefore, “must be overruled.” Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the leaked opinion the following day, but cautioned that it is not necessarily the Court’s final word.
While Roberts’ admonition should be taken at face value, it is unlikely that the final decision in Dobbs will depart from the substantial holding of the leaked opinion. Assuming that is the case, the end of Roe is the occasion for American Catholics to reassess their policy positions regarding a host of issues, including public subsidies for prenatal and neonatal health care, mandatory paid parental leave, publicly subsidized or underwritten childcare, and adoption reform. Are ones’ currently held positions formed by Catholic moral doctrine or partisan political loyalty?
BROADER SUPPORT POST-ROE
It is common slander to say Catholics only care about the child until he or she is born. This is nonsense. Through crisis pregnancy centers, Catholic Charities, Catholic Social Services, and numerous other organizations, Catholics have been in the vanguard of compassionate care for pregnant women, newborn children, and young families. Along with these admirable and necessary services, a post-Roe America will demand even broader support for pregnant women, infants, children, and young families, which must include governmental policies and programs. As pro-life advocates, we Catholics must resist reflexively opposing such measures simply because they may not align with the current thought of our preferred political party. Our Catholic faith should relativize and subordinate everything else to itself.
We believe we must preserve the lives of all unborn children; this implies an obligation to programs that help women carry their babies to term, such as mandated paid family leave. The United States is the only wealthy western democracy without a federal law mandating that employers provide paid parental leave to their employees. While a handful of states require employers to provide varying amounts of paid leave, federal policy guarantees only six weeks of unpaid time off for some qualified workers. Many large employers do, of course, provide paid family leave on their own. Catholic institutions and Catholic-owned businesses should be leading examples of such benefits, even if not legally required. Discussions about the cost of such mandates, distribution and absorption of those costs, and other factors related to implementation of such policies are fair game, but they must be in the context of Catholic moral teaching, which transcends partisan politics.
Similarly, we Catholics should advocate generous, publicly supported, neonatal and early childhood healthcare programs funded by state or federal tax dollars. By affirming the legitimacy of public funding for early-childhood healthcare, we will have a stronger voice in how it is distributed and what is required to receive it. Economic incentives to keep and care for children are a legitimate effect of tax policy. By affirming them in principle, we can help shape them in practice.
State and federal policy related to childcare is another area in which we, as pro-life advocates, might need to adjust our thinking. Proponents of government-supported childcare are often motivated by the desire for parents to rejoin the workforce, rather than the child’s welfare. An early return to the workforce might be better for some families, and we must not gainsay that decision. On the other hand, childcare credits or other forms of public funding must also assist parents who choose to stay home in their children’s most formative early years. While it is legitimate for both parents to work outside the home, the decision should not be driven solely by financial necessity. If we reject subsidized childcare out of hand, we forfeit our ability to shape policy in a way that supports family-friendly programs, applicable to both parents who rejoin the workforce and those who choose to stay home.
Reversal of Roe is also an opportunity to address the enormous cost of adoption, which can be $20,000 to $45,000 through an agency. When not paid or subsidized by an employer, these costs are often prohibitive for couples who desire to adopt newborns and infants. Laws and regulations streamlining the process, along with publicly subsidized costs, will help couples afford adoption and encourage mothers to carry to term children they would be tempted to abort. Of course, programs must always measure up to the Catholic principle of subsidiarity: where practicable, social policies and programs must be implemented by institutions closest to the challenge. Such programs will be expensive, but if we are serious about discouraging abortion and encouraging parenting by intact families, we must be ready to help bear those costs. United, Catholics can be vocal advocates for life and for families. To do so credibly, we must set aside partisan politics and embrace the entirety of Catholic moral doctrine, thereby properly enabling our faith to animate our choices and actions.
Dr. Kenneth Craycraft is an attorney and the James J. Gardner Family Chair of Moral Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology.
This article appeared in the July 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.