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Babies Are Good

A new proposal to make child birth free, promising more healthy babies and fewer abortions, is turning heads.

Pregnant,Woman,With,Doctor,At,Hospital
(Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

A recent article published by Compact has sparked some debate on the right this week as the pro-life movement prepares to descend on the imperial city for the first March for Life after Roe.

The piece, titled “Make Birth Free,” by Catherine Glenn Foster & Kristen Day is a summary of a white paper the pair co-authored under the same name earlier this month. Foster, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, and Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America argue both in the piece and the white paper that a federal program to eliminate costs associated with childbirth would not only lead to better infant and mother health outcomes but fewer abortions.

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“Given the average cost of childbirth and the approximately 3.6 million annual births in the United States, a basic program to Make Birth Free would cost about $68 billion. But 42 percent of US births are already financed through Medicaid, meaning that only $39.5 billion of that amount would be new spending… If an additional $60 billion were allocated to assist with perinatal care, baby supplies, and expanded paid leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act program, the total additional cost to Make Birth Free in America would still be less than $100 billion per year—about the same amount as US aid to Ukraine in 2022.”

More babies, healthy ones at that, and fewer abortions, for the cost of what lawmakers clamored to give Ukraine for just ten months? Sounds like a good deal. As the common refrain of the recently sworn in Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio goes, “babies are good.” I wholeheartedly agree. If conservatives stand for anything, that should be it. 

At other publications, however, the word “free” was a tripwire. Writing for National Review, Wesley J. Smith, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, says, “the motivation for the proposal is laudable,” but later on claims such a program would lead to “[s]ocialized medicine.”

Smith thinks he catches Foster and Day in a clever trap, one of limiting principles:

The questions have to be asked: Why not free cancer care to reduce the pressure to assisted suicide? Why not free nursing home care to prevent the elderly from being neglected or abused? The list of needs is very long, and the federal budget is already busted.

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I have no principled objection to any of these things. My objections, rather, are based in prudence and experience with our current systems and regime.

If elder neglect and abuse would be substantially lessened by providing free nursing home care, maybe it would be something to consider. The experience of those in New York nursing homes during Covid-19 lead me to suggest that would not be the case. 

As for providing free cancer care in the name of reducing rates of assisted suicide, that suggests assisted suicide is a legitimate practice. Sometimes, a blunt political instrument—in this case, a federal ban on assisted suicide passed by Congress or implemented by the courts—would be better for the task at hand.

If Smith had it his way, the government would “[establish] birth financial assistance funds through private philanthropic means and grants.” Such a system, Smith argues, “would accomplish many of the same goals promoted by AUL without granting more power to the federal government and increasing the national debt.”

Smith refuses to elaborate, but such a scheme doesn’t even pass the smell test. Without increasing the national debt? Where would the money for these financial assistance funds come from? Probably the government that created them. 

As for handing less power over to the government, Smith’s program would likely give the government the same, if not more, power. In their white paper, however, Foster and Day preempt such critiques. When discussing why childbirth should be free rather than means tested, the pair writes, “administrative burdens, such as learning costs (to navigate complex bureaucratic systems) and compliance costs (time spent completing paperwork and collecting documentation, transportation, lost wages, child care, etc.), impose significant barriers to those seeking assistance. Many mothers and families would fail to participate due to the administrative burdens involved. A free birth paradigm is an accessible and easily administrable one.”

Smith thinks he escapes the administrative burden of his program by making government-funded philanthropies bear the bureaucratic burden of means testing each case. While that specific burden may be taken off the government’s shoulders, Smith’s plan wouldn’t lessen the government’s power. It’d simply put it in a different place, and further up the chain to even more adversarial parties at that. Which group actually threatens conservative causes more: case workers or the grant and compliance officials that have funded LGBTQ care and Big Pharma to the gills?

All this complexity for potentially the same, if not greater, perils, with the addition of one more major downside. Smith’s plan would forgo the American regime sending a powerful social message: babies are good, and their lives deserve protection.

You can almost hear their cries now. “But socialism! Don’t you know that conservatism is about freedom, free markets, and the Constitution!” In the American context, these things are true to different degrees. But freedom, markets, and the Constitution are but intermediate ends to a regime’s true end. 

In the words of Aristotle in his Politics, “the end of the state is the good life… And the state is the union of families and villages in a perfect and self-sufficing life, by which we mean a happy and honorable life.” The happy life is defined elsewhere as, “the life according to virtue lived without impediment.” Christianity, the revelation of God’s plan for mankind incompletely known to Aristotle, informs us of what virtue is and where it comes from.

The state should lift us higher, bring us closer to God. To do that, sometimes it's better to use a hammer than a scalpel.

Editor's note: This blog post has been updated. TAC contributing editors Matthew Schmitz and Sohrab Ahmari are co-founders and co-editors of Compact.

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