In The News

Washington Post: Fortenberry’s Care for Her Act creates “commitment of care for the journey of life”

Jun 24, 2021
In The News

Politicians rarely think about pregnant women outside of the abortion debate. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) hopes to change that.

Fortenberry has been working on a new bill, the Care for Her Act, which would make caring for a pregnant woman and meeting her needs the centerpiece of public policy. The soon-to-be-introduced legislation would do this by establishing a “commitment of care for the journey of life,” Fortenberry told me in a recent interview. He added that it would create an “opportunity for our solidarity” with women with unexpected pregnancies.

The bill has four basic provisions. First, it would make unborn children eligible for the child tax credit. Under current law, that means every expectant mother would get $3,600 she otherwise would not. Second, it would establish a federal-state partnership that assesses and catalogues all available resources and programs that an expectant mother is eligible for. Participation in the program would be voluntary for states, but those that do would commit to providing each expectant mother with that list at an appropriate time during her pregnancy, letting her know that the community is ready to care for her and her child. Third, it would provide federal grants for the advancement of maternal housing, job training and other educational opportunities. Finally, it would provide incentives to improve maternal health and child health outcomes.

Taken as a whole, the Care for Her Act would establish a comprehensive community support system for all pregnant women and their children. A woman facing an unexpected pregnancy would no longer have to struggle in isolation; instead, she could rest assured that society is there for her in her difficult circumstances.

It’s about time someone thought this way. Roughly 6 million women become pregnant in the United States every year. Less than 900,000 are terminated through abortion, leaving approximately 5 million women who either give birth or tragically lose their child via miscarriage. Fortenberry’s community of care could reduce miscarriage and would provide comfort and support for a large number of women who choose to bring their child into the world. That is simply the mark of a caring society that values the life of each and every one of its members.

Establishing this community of care should be something that pro-life and pro-choice Americans can support. Pro-lifers have long been attacked as allegedly unsupportive of women who reject abortion. Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) memorably quipped that pro-life legislators who opposed child nutrition and daycare programs effectively believed that “life begins at conception and ends at birth.” That’s always been a canard, but Fortenberry’s bill finally puts the sentiment to rest.

Pro-choice legislators can also get behind this legislation. The bill is agnostic on the abortion question, shifting the policy focus to the woman who chooses life for her child. Most pro-choice legislators strongly support extensive government programs to support child-rearing. This bill makes a firm national commitment to a comprehensive support structure for pregnant women, which has been lacking despite many specific programs. Over time, this structure can be built into a robust and nurturing environment so that no pregnant woman fears she will face motherhood alone.

Fortenberry’s bill may face opposition from libertarian-leaning conservatives for adding to the federal deficit. Extending the child tax credit to unborn children alone could add nearly $22 billion a year in spending if applied to all 6 million pregnancies. Other provisions, such as federal grants for maternal housing, could raise the price tag even more. But that doesn’t scare Fortenberry. He says it’s simply the right thing to invest in the health of mothers and children. “That I’ll spend money on as a conservative Republican,” he said.

This gets to an important political question for Republicans: Democrats have long claimed the compassion moniker. People look to the Democratic Party first for help, though often they find that the Democratic help they get comes with bureaucratic rules and strings that they neither want nor need. In the early 20th century, Republicans enacted a host of measures to help people in need rather than adopt a pure laissez-faire attitude. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also the last time the GOP was the United States’ majority party. Backing ideas such as Fortenberry’s can help show America the truth — that conservatism is the midpoint between bureaucratic socialism and unfeeling libertarianism.

Fortenberry hopes that this bill can transcend the politics of division by “going to the essence of solidarity and belonging.” He’s right. Let’s hope his colleagues agree.

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