Although regularly critical of small-government antiabortion politicians and activists, I also spend significant time defending them against the charge that they are not worthy of their “pro-life” title. Holding fast to a principle of limited federal power (a limitation many of us are happy to have in the era of Trump) doesn’t make one necessarily hostile to the vulnerable lives that could be made better — and even saved from death — by a government with more resources and authority.
But when a GOP tax plan gets rid of the adoption tax credit, such a defense becomes much more difficult to make. The plan crafted and now pushed by outspoken antiabortion politicians such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) denies hopeful parents the chance to put money they have already earned toward the indescribable joy that can come from adoption. (Full disclosure: I’m an adoptive parent of three siblings from the Philippines.)
If we’re going to be serious about antiabortion politics, the comprehensive struggle to save the lives of prenatal children must engage both the supply side (abortion restrictions) and the demand side (the social pressures which, in many circumstances, make abortion seem like the only option). It may be difficult for antiabortion voters with a limited-government approach to focus on the latter, but the adoption tax credit is anything but a big government program. Again, it is simply letting people who choose to adopt to keep some money they have already earned rather than sending it to Washington in the form of taxes.
The link between more adoptions and fewer abortions is probably a matter of common sense for most of us. But those skeptical of such a link should consider the stories of people such as Tara Lee, founder of Always Hope, an adoption agency that works explicitly with women who are seeking abortions.
“Many of these women change their minds when they realize that there are parents who are eager to adopt their child and give her a wonderful life,” Lee told me during a recent phone call. “Over the years I’ve been doing this work, I’ve seen the unmistakable connection between the availability of adoption and saving babies from abortion.”
The group’s social media pages are full of stories and testimonials of women saying that they were going to have an abortion before being presented with the alternatives Always Hope gave them.
Some argue that adoption tax credits merely benefit the rich who would have adopted anyway. And while this may be true in some cases at bigger agencies, the kinds of adoptive parents Lee serves could never have done it without this benefit. “My parents rely on the tax credits,” she said. “Without them, almost everyone I’ve worked with would not have been able to adopt.”
If those of us who support the tax credit are honest with ourselves, we should probably admit that adoption tax credits help create some wasteful bureaucracy and hoop-jumping (I have personally experienced this firsthand), thus making adoption more expensive than it otherwise would be. But adoption agencies still compete with each other on costs, and there are dozens of people who play an essential role in the process, from social workers to fingerprint techs to lawyers. Given that these professionals are rightly paid a fair wage for their labor, it used to be the case that only people of means could adopt. But when regular folks get to keep their tax dollars, it expands the opportunity and joy outside those privileged classes.
A small-government conservative may also wonder whether this tax credit is another example of government picking winners and losers by deciding which kinds of practices get a tax break and which do not. They may believe that the GOP tax plan is trying to get rid of all such credits and exemptions, thus leveling the playing field for all.
But this is manifestly not the case. Under this plan, for instance, homeowners would be rewarded by continuing to deduct their mortgage interest, while sick people would be punished by no longer being able to deduct their medical expenses. Holders of 401(k) accounts would get to keep their tax-free money, while people with student loans wouldn’t be able to deduct the interest. And so on.
In a GOP bill that rewards some choices and discourages others, it is disheartening to find antiabortion congressmen opting to discourage parents from adopting children. The Susan B. Anthony List, perhaps the most important antiabortion lobbying group in Washington, has criticized the bill on this basis.
Will the GOP respond to this antiabortion criticism? Now is the time for these antiabortion legislators to prove their critics wrong.
President Barack Obama, it is worth noting, actually pushed for and passed legislation that made the adoption tax credit permanent. It would involve no small degree of irony if Republicans were the ones to take it away.