The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Many more babies will be born post-Dobbs. We need to help them and their moms.

Abortion rights demonstrators in Venice Beach, Calif. on July 4. (Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
5 min

The Supreme Court’s decision striking down Roe v. Wade has set off a desperate struggle among supporters of abortion care to ensure that women still have access to the procedure. That goal is vital — but it’s not enough.

The battle to preserve abortion access is going to be a grinding slog through statehouses and the courts. There will be terrible, tragic casualties along the way.

For every doctor writing telemedicine prescriptions for Mifeprex, there will be a state legislator offering bounties to malicious tattletales. For every newly flush abortion fund, there will be a service worker who can’t afford to take a day off to drive over state lines for care, if her boss will grant her one. The most heroic efforts to keep abortion available will fall short for too many women.

Estimates of just how many babies will be born because of new abortion restrictions vary. One researcher suggests 75,000, another 180,000. So what, beyond abortion, will this country have to offer these children and their parents?

Even in the happiest circumstances, this is not an easy time to have a baby. Parents who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed face ongoing baby formula shortages. By one estimate, the average price of diapers has risen 22 percent in the past four years. Child care was crushingly expensive and sometimes difficult to find before the covid-19 pandemic permanently shuttered thousands of facilities, making the problem worse.

And none of this touches on the longer-standing failures of family policy, such as substandard maternal health care and lack of paid leave.

It may feel daunting to think bigger and do more than merely try to claw back the rights so recently lost. But these times demand that the entire country — not only those in the abortion-rights camp — be more ambitious.

In this extraordinary moment, feminists and family policy advocates should welcome conservatives who are willing to heed the call from former congressional Republican staffers Mark Rodgers and Kiki Bradley to “increase our commitment and, through public resources, help carry the load that we are asking many women to bear.”

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Ideally, the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will have convinced some on the right to sign on to traditionally liberal priorities such as paid leave, child care subsidies and expanded health insurance coverage for pregnant people and their children.

But others might require a bit more ideological flexibility and creativity.

Take “crisis pregnancy centers,” which have rightly been a bugbear for those on the left. Intended to dissuade people from terminating their pregnancies, some have been shown to commingle limited health services such as pregnancy tests and sonograms with medical misinformation.

Rather than simply decrying these facilities, why not out-compete them? Surely a philanthropist such as MacKenzie Scott, who made a record-setting donation to Planned Parenthood this spring, could shell out to build institutions that combine comprehensive reproductive health care with supportive housing, job training and financial subsidies to offset the cost of diapers, wipes and formula? If we can’t ensure every woman the total bodily autonomy that ought to be her right, we can offer assistance that isn’t conditioned on a willingness to be proselytized.

More immediately, organizers could build on the community pantries and mutual aid networks that sprang up during the pandemic to supplement the work of diaper and food banks.

The private sector should step up, too. It’s good for companies to cover employees’ travel costs if they need to go out of state for abortion care. It would be better to do that and to fund generous parental leave, set up on-site day care, and create a culture of flexibility for parents and caregivers. Bonus: In a tight labor market, this kind of private safety net might help employers recruit and hang on to workers.

Of course, lawmakers must also act, however belatedly. The United States’ callously libertarian approach to parenting has always been disgraceful. But after Dobbs, failures such as the Democrats’ inability to extend child tax credit payments after they expired feel like a scandalous breakdown of policy and politics.

Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) have long labored to advance proposals such as making diapers tax-exempt nationwide and eligible for purchase under health savings accounts. If Congress can’t get it together to pass a law protecting abortion access, it could at least pass some of these bills. And paid-parental-leave advocates, on both sides of the aisle, should make a real effort to bridge their differences over how to pay for those benefits.

Now is the time to do everything. So set up a recurring donation to an abortion fund and a diaper bank. Fight for expanded access to medication abortion and to paid parental leave. Protect physicians who perform abortions and increase pay for child-care workers and early-childhood educators.

Access to abortion may have let some Americans disregard our broader failures to support mothers and babies. That excuse is gone.

Abortion access in America

Tracking abortion access in the U.S.: After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the legality of abortion is left to individual states. The Post is tracking states where abortion is legal, banned or under threat.

Abortion pills: The Justice Department appealed a Texas judge’s decision that would block approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The Supreme Court decided to retain full access to mifepristone as the appeal proceeds. Here’s an explanation of what happens next in the abortion pill case.

Post-Roe America: With Roe overturned, women who had secret abortions before Roe v. Wade felt compelled to speak out. Other women who were seeking abortions while living in states with strict abortion bans also shared their experiences with The Post through calls, text messages and other documentation. Here are photos and stories from across America since the reversal of Roe v. Wade.