Leading up to and following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, many in the pro-life movement have emphasized the idea of creating a stronger “safety net” for women and children. Much of the rhetoric has focused on “empowering” women and helping moms “flourish.” While the details of these frameworks and plans are still being worked out, most of them presume some kind of welfare expansion, whether that be for entitlement programs, like Medicaid, or more subsidies for government daycare. By contrast, very little attention has been paid to the idea of “empowering” men — or holding fathers responsible for caring for and supporting their own children. Fewer still are looking to marriage as part of the solution.
Consider that being unmarried and pregnant is one of the primary reasons women choose abortion. In pro-life Mississippi, for instance, 91% of abortions (for 2019) were obtained by unmarried women. At the same time, Mississippi suffers from the highest out-of-wedlock birth rate in the country and is the poorest state in the country. Mississippi is also one of the largest recipients of federal funds and has one of the highest rates of welfare dependency.
Nationally, 86% of abortions are sought by unmarried women. Could encouraging marriage reduce the abortion rate, even in states hesitant to pass more restrictive abortion laws? Academics have found that the inverse is true. A 1975 study examined pre-Roe marriage rates and found that states with less restrictive abortion laws had lower marriage rates. Today, however, the suggestion that a couple should get married because they have conceived a child together seems, not only alien but barbaric and cruel. Far fairer is to eliminate the byproduct: the unborn child.
If abortion is beyond “unfair” to the child, what is to be said about encouraging the expansion of a “safety net” that expects the child to grow up without a father? No doubt, many young men who become fathers — whether out-of-wedlock or not — are not up to the task. It seems almost fantastic, if not absurd, to require that they be so.
This is all the more reason why the most urgent task in a post-Dobbs America is not to “empower women,” but to urge and oblige men to be responsible fathers. As a first step, some states are looking to strengthen child support laws. Federal law allows states to impose child support cooperation and payment requirements as a precondition for receiving food stamps and childcare subsidies. The implementation of such policies should balance the needs of both the mother and the father, but there should be a baseline expectation that men will financially contribute to the rearing of their own children.
According to researcher Jonathan Ingram, less than one-quarter of single-parent households receive any child support. Families that do receive such support are far less likely to be dependent on Medicaid, food stamps, public housing and other welfare programs. Observes Mr. Ingram: “When families do not receive what they are owed, they are robbed of thousands of dollars in extra income — a life-changing amount of money for someone trapped in dependency and poverty.”
Having grown up without a father, I can only imagine the difference such financial assistance would have made in my life. Growing up without a father is painful, even if it’s a father who for reasons of addiction or abuse should not be in the home. Thus, while strengthening child support laws is necessary, policymakers must encourage men to play a more active role in their children’s lives.
If requiring men to provide financial and emotional support to their own children appears idealistic, the notion that people should get married is downright laughable. For many in modern America, marriage is a fairytale. For a single woman, pregnant and low-income, marriage hardly seems like a reliable option.
Again, the answer lies in encouraging men to be more responsible. Instead of promoting policies like daycare at age zero as a “workforce development tool” for new moms, it would make more sense to develop the workforce potential — and marriageability — of new dads.
More than a change in policy, what is needed is a sea change in expectations. If our cultural default is that we don’t really expect men to work, get married and support their own children, men will never rise to the challenge. No safety net, no matter how expansive, will ever replace the role a dad should have in his children’s lives.
• Jameson Taylor, Ph.D., is director of government affairs with American Family Association Action.
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