Last week marked 50 years since the monumental Roe v. Wade case legalized abortion in our country—and seven months since it was overturned.
Amid the articles discussing implications for the pro-life movement, one argument in Compact Magazine sparked a ripple of related headlines. In it, Catherine Glenn Foster with Americans United for Life and Kristen Day with Democrats for Life of America proposed that to address the financial motives for abortion, giving birth should be made free in the United States.
This proposal isn’t new—Elizabeth Bruenig penned an op-ed with the same title for The Atlantic last year—but the Make Birth Free movement seems to be gaining greater traction in recent days, as people of faith and folks on both sides of the political aisle are lining up to share their thoughts on the subject.
One response for the Institute for Family Studies explains that “making it easier to have a child doesn’t require making birth free”—arguing instead that existing resources should be made easier to access. Another piece for the National Review lists other objections and ultimately argues that the same ends could be achieved through private rather than governmental support.
But what are some other views on the matter? Four pro-life Christian thinkers with a background in politics and family advocacy weigh in on the merits and challenges of the Make Birth Free proposal.
Daniel Bennett, politics professor at John Brown University:
The end of Roe v. Wade was a necessary result for the American pro-life movement, but it was far from sufficient in its fight against abortion. Pro-life Americans—including many Christians—now find themselves in new territory, no longer fighting a constitutional battle but instead one focused on how to best respond in this new environment.
If the end of Roe really does result in more children being born, we must focus on how to support these children, their mothers, and their families with all means at our disposal. This includes continuing to lift up women and children in our private lives, yes, but also being creative in how we marshal government resources to invest in some of the most vulnerable among us.
Americans United for Life has set a high bar in its proposal to make birth free in the United States, modeled on existing programs funding organ donation and essential medical care.
I am encouraged to see an unapologetically pro-life group recognize the complexity of living in a post-Roe world, combining personal efforts with public programs to support the preborn, newborns, and the women who care for them.
Pro-life Americans rightly rejoiced with the end of a constitutional right to abortion. Now, we must be equally zealous in adopting an all-hands-on-deck posture in serving women and children in our midst, regardless of where this aid comes from.
Kelly M. Rosati, former vice president of Advocacy for Children and Community Outreach at Focus on the Family:
I was heartened to see the proposal from Democrats for Life and Americans United for Life calling on policymakers to make birth free in the United States.
There can be no better fiscal or policy priorities than those that elevate practical support for children and families. According to the pro-abortion rights research organization, the Guttmacher Institute, 73 percent of women who have had abortions indicated they chose abortion because they couldn’t afford a baby. A 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation study found the average cost of giving birth is almost $19K, with almost $3K out of pocket for families.
These numbers don’t include the rising price of health insurance premiums and additional charges for any out-of-network care or services required to keep both mom and baby healthy. And these amounts are just the beginning. The Brookings Institute in 2022 estimated from government data that the annual cost of raising a child is now around $18K.
Policies that alleviate these monetary burdens on families aren’t the solution to solving the abortion crisis in our country, but they are most certainly part of the solution. Creating a welcoming environment for new life is critical, both culturally and economically. A proposal to make birth free recognizes the unique, sacred, and practical imperatives to structure a society whose fiscal priorities include welcoming new life and fostering the next generation.
These are the kinds of bold proposals the pro-life movement needs to place high on the agenda—along with providing paid family leave and ensuring health care for moms and babies.
To those with concerns about spending and fiscal accountability, I’d say there are ample places in the federal budget to offset additional spending. It’s all a matter of priorities. Support for childbirth, infants, and families ought to be at the top of our pro-life policy lists.
Lyman Stone, research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS):
It is laudable to see pro-life organizations getting behind the call to make birth and delivery free for all Americans. If the proposal on offer became law tomorrow, we would have fewer abortions, more healthy babies, and a stronger culture of life in our society.
However, we would also be overpaying for this, as the proposal calls to essentially cover all birth costs in the United States—at a level not even covered by many private insurance plans currently (such as by covering doulas)—and also to provide an allowance for the child’s first two years of life. This is all well and good, but to effect serious change, it would be more helpful to advance concrete policy proposals that are attainable in the short run and at a reasonable cost.
To make birth free, a straightforward option would be to push for a legislative fix to the laws governing Medicaid, allowing presumptive eligibility for pregnant women to be extended from 60 days to 300 days, covering a whole pregnancy and the immediate perinatal period. This would give all Americans a free option without disrupting the private market for people who like their current insurance. Many people would still choose to pay for a more amenity-rich, privately insured birth—but everybody would have a free option, providing some price discipline across the industry.
This approach is a lot more economical and nondisruptive than the current Make Birth Free proposal. If there's an interest beyond that in covering costs for private births, a straightforward option would be to establish a total out-of-pocket, maximum cost for pregnancy-related care. The average total out-of-pocket cost for birth right now is around $3,000, which could be capped at a much lower threshold. This wouldn't cost the government anything, but it would cause insurance rates to rise for people who are not having babies.
Of course, if we believe all of society has an interest in the next generation, paying a little more for insurance to make birth free may be a worthwhile tradeoff. Regardless of the approach, both of these proposals are far cheaper than the $30–$70 billion per year quoted by the Make Birth Free proposal: Total costs would be no more than $20 billion per year, possibly as little as $5 billion.
Rachel Anderson, founder of the Families Valued project at the Center for Public Justice:
The Make Birth Free proposal is one in a series of signals that families in the United States, though occupying a vital and unique place in human society, are themselves in a vulnerable place. Kristen Day and Catherine Glenn Foster illustrate this by citing the out-of-pocket expenses incurred during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. But the reality is even more challenging.
Families not only incur new costs when they have a child—they face these costs with even fewer resources than they did before. American households experience, on average, a 10 percent drop in income in the months before and after childbirth. Prenatal medical appointments and the physical realities of late pregnancy often mean time away from work, and many jobs still do not provide adequate paid parental leave.
Researchers at Seattle Pacific University conducted interviews with faith-based employers indicating that even well-meaning organizations are offering, on average, only four to six weeks of paid time off after an employee welcomes a new child by birth or adoption.
Many Americans find that the structures and cycles of their jobs are often out of sync with the rhythms and seasons of family life—creating gaps of lost income, exhaustion, and stress.
Day and Foster’s proposal tackles the needs around health care costs—which many states are currently addressing through expanding Medicaid to cover a full year after birth and cost-effective, culturally sensitive services such as doula care. Pro-family Christians should be on the frontlines of these efforts in their states.
Employers should stretch to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family leave for major family-care events and at least two weeks of paid medical-caregiving leave annually. They should also advocate for public programs that extend family stipends in the months surrounding childbirth and paid-leave benefits to all who work. Last year, a diverse group of Christian leaders convened by the Center for Public Justice offered policymakers such a proposal.
As a society, we have grown used to assuming that families will be able to serve their vital role without making the real shifts needed to assure that they do. Too often, our attitude around families is much like the posture toward the poor criticized in the Book of James: “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” while failing to provide the necessary resources to clothe and feed the needy.
The call to make birth free is a reminder that promoting healthy families is work we all need to do.
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