Now that the Supreme Court has issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and Roe v. Wade is overturned, a larger question looms: Where does the anti-abortion movement go from here? For half a century, as courts upheld Roe as precedent and this “settled law” grew increasingly popular with the American public, conservatives worked tirelessly to install judges who would to unwork decades of progress. Thanks to a mix of guile (judicial nominees obfuscating their views to credulous senators), corruption (Mitch McConnell refusing to fill a vacant seat until a Republican was in the White House), and luck (the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg months before a presidential election), their hard work paid off, and the federal constitutional right to an abortion, as it was understood, is no more.
But there always has to be a morning after. Over the last few days, one theory of what might follow has emerged: Anti-abortion zealots are, at long last, going to become pro-life. Writing in The New York Times, Ross Douthat made the case that one path forward is “making the G.O.P. more serious about family policy and public health” by showing “how abortion restrictions are compatible with the goods that abortion advocates accuse them of compromising—the health of the poorest women, the flourishing of their children, the dignity of motherhood even when it comes unexpectedly or amid great difficulty.” The Atlantic provided a portrait of the activists who are pushing such family values on the right by advocating for the easing of pregnancy and childcare’s burdens—while acknowledging, of course, that such activists remain a minority in the movement and, even then, only in rare cases support expanding the social safety net.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio seemed to answer this call; shortly after Roe was reversed, he tweeted “I will soon introduce a proposal to support mothers and their babies so that every child has a real opportunity to pursue the promise of America.” But a closer look at his plan reveals that the GOP is many miles away from actually getting mothers the material support they need. Rubio’s proposal, released last week, does include a paid family leave proposal—sort of.
The Rubio plan would allow new parents to essentially borrow against their future Social Security payments in advance, for up to three months; it would then have to be paid back by retiring later than planned. A mother of four would, under this plan, ultimately have to work a year longer than her partner. This is not “paid” family leave at all. His bill would, moreover, also block tax breaks that could cover gender transition or travel for abortions—indeed, this seems like its ultimate purpose. It’s also worth pointing out that Social Security would have to exist for anyone to borrow against it. Rubio’s fellow Florida senator and chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rick Scott, has proposed that all laws passed by Congress after five years be sunsetted, a plan that would end Social Security completely unless renewed by Congress.
Rubio’s bastardized form of paid family leave, which is a rehash of another proposal he made in 2018, isn’t the only thing that clearly indicates the Republicans’ fickle commitment to generosity. The vast majority of the GOP opposes nearly everything you can think of that would actually help pregnant women and families. Universal health care is unthinkable; the GOP spent much of President Trump’s term in office trying to undo Obamacare, a market-based approach to health care access. A recent study from The American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that infant mortality rates were higher in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.
The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act did contain a modest expansion of the child tax credit, but when the American Rescue Plan Act expanded the credit further—bringing the benefit to more families and providing convenient monthly payments instead of an annual lump sum—Republicans hardly clamored to continue the expansion and allowed it to expire at the end of last year despite its popularity and success. Abortion restrictions will likely lead to an uptick in child poverty; there’s nothing being done in red states to stave off this inevitability at the moment and no reason to believe that will change any time soon. There certainly is a small band of conservatives who are committed to helping young families; they cannot pass laws or direct funding or have much influence over conservatives that do. In most cases, these activists are only interested in continuing doing private, nongovernmental work. There’s nothing wrong with that, but these efforts haven’t been sufficient to the task even before the Dobbs ruling.
The Republican Party, meanwhile, has shown no interest in helping the women it seeks to force to have children. No red states passed trigger laws that would allocate and direct aid to families affected by the repeal of Roe. No red states had laws on the books that would, say, expand Medicaid the instant Roe was overturned. But this isn’t to say that Republican lawmakers in state legislatures didn’t use their foresight to plan ahead: Many such lawmakers made sure that trigger laws that would imprison women who have abortions or the doctors who perform them were ready to go on day one. There is a great deal of effort and enthusiasm being paid to these laws—ones that restrict abortions, punish providers and recipients, and vastly expand the surveillance power of the state to punish those who seek them. No energy was spent considering anyone’s well-being until the Republicans became the dog who caught the car.
In a broader sense, you can already discern the real future priorities of the anti-abortion movement, and it has nothing to do with helping ordinary Americans make ends meet. Rather, the reversal of Roe is a model to be returned to and followed anew: Republicans are planning to reload and undo decades of popular progress in matters such as contraception and marriage equality. Rather than get back into governing, they’ll continue to mine the culture war that has raged for the last half-century for fresh grievances: You can see conservatives’ energy being spent on the efforts to ban talk of America’s racist past in public schools, as well as the fight to pass discriminatory laws against transgender people. Indeed, Rubio’s legislation is a model here as well—it ostensibly seeks to help young families but mostly succeeds in punishing those with trans children.
This points to the most glaring flaw in the assumption that Roe will lead to the emergence of some true pro-life movement on the right: that, having won on abortion, the right will simply sit on its laurels and actually contend with the assumptions that theoretically underlie the “pro-life” label. This is laughable. The right hasn’t gotten where they are today—or where they want to go tomorrow—by expanding the social safety net. For decades, they’ve referred to such dealings as “socialism” and decried proponents of such policies as a threat to the American way of life. They’ve excelled at ginning up rabid culture war battles and are in constant need of new ones in order to keep their base’s mind off the nonexistent proceeds of their phony populism. The fight to end abortion isn’t over. But the next fight, which is to enact a nationwide abortion ban, is now underway—and it will continue until it succeeds. That—not child or health care—is where the right is headed next.