Doctor checking pregnant woman
Doctor checking pregnant woman
Humanize From Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism

To Reduce Abortions, Should Giving Birth Be Free?

Wesley J. Smith
arroba Email

With Roe v. Wade now in the dustbin of history, the pro-life movement is switching gears to the difficult task of persuading the country to reject abortion. Americans United for Life is in the thick of that fray and has now issued a white paper arguing that birth should be free to every mother in the USA.

The paper notes that mothers on private insurance may pay up to $5,000 for a healthy birth and up to $10,000 if there are medical complications. These expenses can provide the impetus to abort.

One answer to reducing abortions, the paper argues, is to ensure that every woman knows that she can give birth with no money out-of-pocket. The paper acknowledges that this would not be cheap.

From “Make Birth Free:”

A basic program to Make Birth Free would cost about $68 billion. But 42% of U.S. births are already financed through Medicaid, meaning that only $39.5 billion of that amount would be new spending. (This is approximately equal to the amount spent in 2022 to modernize transit.) 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. (This is approximately equal to the amount of aid spent to support Ukraine in 2022.)

Although this spending is significant, it represents a mere fraction of the federal budget. The federal government spends nearly two and a half times more on education, and more than sixteen times more on healthcare overall. America’s mothers and infants are worth the marginal spending increase it would take to Make Birth Free.

The paper also argues that doing this would, over time, reduce the total cost of births in the country.

But why free? Why not means-tested? The paper notes that the Affordable Care Act requires that health insurance provide free contraception coverage but not the costs of birth. Moreover, by having the federal government pay for every birth, the bureaucracy would be materially reduced, making it easier for mothers to choose to give birth.

The paper argues eloquently that free birth would go a long way toward promoting the general welfare:

Encouraging mothers and families to make the choice for life is an important investment in America’s future. Human beings are a nation’s most precious natural resource. Human beings are not mere consumers of scarce resources, but rather natural and equal contributors toward America’s common good. Human beings are
creative producers of new and innovative technologies, medicines, and businesses.

And this:

Men and women are more than mouths; they are minds, with limitless capacity for innovation. Yet the total fertility rate in the United States—a measure of the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime when present fertility rates and lifespans are held constant—has declined to record lows. If sustained, fewer Americans will be born each year than will die, leading to negative population growth.

What to think? The motivation for the proposal is laudable, i.e., to ensure that no unborn baby is destroyed because of what the paper calls “economic coercion” to abort. But 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.

And would free birthing reduce the quality of care provided at hospitals and birthing centers since the government would surely set low reimbursement rates for hospitals, doctors, and midwives, just as it does already with Medicaid? Then, there would be all of the increased bureaucracy and social engineering that federal mandates bring along with them.

So, I like the goal but am dubious about the means. Socialized medicine — because that is what this proposal would further — eventually breaks the bank and can quickly melt down, reducing access to quality care — as currently is happening in Canada and the UK.

I believe the better approach would be establishing birth financial assistance funds through private philanthropic means and grants. The pregnancy help center approach is already doing this important work throughout the country. Expanding the reach of these centers could accomplish many of the same goals promoted by AUL without granting more power to the federal government and increasing the national debt.

Still, the White Paper makes a compelling point that the proposal could be a bridge across the pro-life and pro-choice divide:

Making birth free to American mothers can and should be a national unifier in a particularly divided time. Together, we can rise above the rancor of partisanship, leaving behind the disproportionate financial burdens imposed on mothers and families and forging a new path that transcends the existing paradigm. Together, we can invest in the American family and promote the choice for life by making birth free.

Any candidate seeking federal office in 2024 must be expected to support that investment. Let’s empower American families and encourage a thriving future for the next generation. Let’s make law and policy that affirms and uplifts every American mother and child. Let’s Make Birth Free.

So, good for AUL to publish what will surely be a controversial proposal. Its motives are pure — to save the lives of as many babies as possible and to help new families thrive. Moreover, by publishing this white paper, the pro-life powerhouse has jump-started a vital conversation among pro-lifers about how to promote best a culture of life that will be required to persuade the country broadly that abortion is the wrong answer to the difficulties associated with an unexpected or inconvenient pregnancy.

Read the paper and see what you think. It’s a serious effort and well worth your time, attention, and considered response.