This week, House Republicans passed a bill that would codify into law the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on taxpayer funding of abortion, and the Trump administration reinstituted the executive order that prohibits groups that receive U.S. aid from performing or promoting abortion in their development work. Many who call themselves pro-life hope that President Trump appoints more than one Supreme Court justice who would overturn Roe vs. Wade, the ultimate goal for many longtime activists. This weekend, thousands of them will gather in Washington, D.C., for the March for Life, an annual protest against abortion.
But among the next generation of antiabortion leaders, there is an increasing realization that legal restrictions alone are not enough to promote a “culture of life.” Protecting a fetus’s legal status is an essential step in ending abortion, but it is only one piece of a cultural and political agenda that would truly support pregnant women and the children they carry.
In addition to changing hearts and minds about abortion, antiabortion activists should demonstrate their seriousness in supporting children both before and after birth by championing a concrete policy agenda of family economic security. Passing the Hyde Amendment would be much more credible as a truly pro-life, rather than simply antiabortion, goal if it were accompanied by an expanded, refundable Child Tax Credit.
As a refresher, the CTC currently reduces the amount of taxes owed by $1,000 per child. For families that owe less in taxes than the amount of their credit, a portion of the remaining balance is returned as a rebate. But low-income families are often left out of the CTC’s benefits — an estimated 1 in 5 families had earnings too low to claim the full $1,000. Additionally, inflation has eroded a full one-third of the credit’s real value since it was set at $1,000 in 2001. This is especially disturbing as poor women are disproportionately represented among women who have abortions: As others have observed, women in poverty accounted for 42.4 percent of abortions — an unacceptable, disproportionately high number, considering 14.2 percent of women nationwide live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.
Expanding the CTC to cover poor parents would be an appropriate goal for pro-life advocates, since it was social conservatives who provided the political will to pass the credit in the first place. As recounted by CBS News’s Major Garrett in his 2005 book “The Enduring Revolution,” it was a meeting with Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition and other faith-based groups that persuaded then-House Budget Chair John Kasich to include the Child Tax Credit in the 1994 GOP budget. They laid out the projected economic and political benefits for a skeptical Kasich, who remained unconvinced. Finally, “four women then turned on Kasich. ‘They just lit into him,’ ” one participant recalls in Garrett’s book. “They said, ‘We demand this.’ ”
Following the meeting, the faith-based conservative leaders activated their grass-roots network, deluging Kasich’s office with “several hundred phone calls,” a staffer recounted. Kasich was convinced of the credit’s political salience and allowed it to be included in the budget that went to the floor.
Antiabortion voters were willing to go to bat for the credit, and their clout ensured its eventual passage in 1997, but the bulk of the benefit went to upper- and middle-income families. Congress lowered the earnings threshold necessary to claim a portion of the credit to $3,000 during the Great Recession, yet the benefits are still skewed away from the lower end of the income spectrum.
Expanding the CTC to support low-income parents and relieve the burden on middle-class families is an idea with bipartisan support. In 2014, Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) proposed expanding the CTC with another $2,500 credit applicable against income and payroll taxes. In the latest election, Hillary Clinton’s proposal would have doubled the credit for children 4 and younger. The cost of expansion depends on how it’s designed, but one estimate finds phasing in the CTC starting at $0 would cost $16.5 billion over 10 years — not cheap, but not a budget-buster.
Certainly, an extra $1,000 a year is not going to come close to covering the additional cost of raising a child. But there’s no question budgetary pressures do play some part in the choice to seek an abortion, and both sides of the abortion issue could be able to agree that women should never be forced into choosing abortion because of economic concerns. The Guttmacher Institute found that 28 percent of women said their decision to choose an abortion was at least in part because of the financial stress having a child would cause.
One proposal would accelerate the payment of the credit, making the money immediately available after birth to cover postpartum expenses. Clinton’s plan would have increased the amount of the CTC for the first four years of a child’s life. However it is designed, a refundable CTC that is available to mothers from all walks of life would be a concrete indicator that our nation cares about investing in our children and a signal to women facing a difficult choice that our society wants to support them to the greatest extent feasible.
The U.S. abortion rate recently fell to its lowest rate since the Supreme Court in 1973 legalized the procedure nationwide, a development more easily attributed to expanded access to and usage of contraceptives than marked improvements in how society addresses the pressures that drive women to abortion. At the same time, some studies have found evidence that suggests economic “assistance to families and access to employment [are] correlated to significantly lower rates of abortion.” Championing an expansion of the CTC would give social conservatives a socially and politically appealing way of advancing the pro-life agenda.
Unlike some antiabortion lawmakers, the new generation of activists have thought seriously about the reasons why women choose abortion, and how our societal response can better affirm both mother and child. This shift in focus is evident in New York City, where the Avail clinic offers holistic, confidential support to women facing a crisis pregnancy; in Washington state, where Catholic Charities agencies have launched a new program that combines prenatal counseling with social services and peer-to-peer mentoring; and in many communities across the nation.
An expanded CTC would provide legislative muscle behind this cultural shift toward better options for at-risk mothers and families. It would strengthen the economic security of our nation’s families. For the pro-life movement, which talks about the God-given dignity of each child before and after birth, it would be a chance to put our money where our mouth is.