New 'Conservative' Idea: Monthly 'Don't Kill Your Baby' Payments

At The American Conservative, Elizabeth Stoker Bruening believes she has an answer for conservatives looking to stop the flow in America of purposeful infant death.

Data on why abortions are sought is clear: most women opt to kill their unborn children because of the potential financial obligation.  A 2005 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that almost 75% of women surveyed chose abortion because they “could not afford a baby.”  A 2013 study found that financial underpreparedness was the most commonly cited factor of women choosing to abort their children.

Bruening argues, “[I]f a woman considers herself too destitute to care for a child, there is no transvaginal ultrasound demoralizing enough and no accompanying narration excoriating enough to make her decision seem any less plausible.”  But with the above empirical findings, she thinks she found a way to instill pro-life sentiment among the poorest of Americans. 

Since appealing to moral conscience doesn’t cut it, Bruening has a less novel idea: give poor mothers money to keep their children.  Bruening calls it a “child allowance program.”  I call it liberal policymaking disguised as a conservative solution to what Pope Francis decries as “throwaway culture.”

Bruening claims that regular monthly payments will give mothers the peace of mind to bear their children.  A simulation run by the progressive think-tank Demos found that a $300-a-month direct payment would help “reduce child poverty by 42 percent.”

So giving people free money helps reduce poverty.  Who knew?

The answer is anyone who understands how money and incentives work.  Government checks don’t provide a crutch to build a better life; they only reinforce bad behavior and foster abuse of the system.  If no-strings-attached welfare were the cure for all of society’s ills, then Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society would have been an unmitigated success.  Instead, Johnson’s push to create paradise on earth has resulted in inner cities still plagued by violence and high incarceration rates.  The Great Society’s vast scheme of subsidization was accompanied by a rise in teenage pregnancy and venereal disease.  Violent crime, which had been decreasing for decades, saw an uptick when the bucks started flowing.

Even as the abortion rate thankfully inches down, some urban areas still see a relatively high rate of unborn killing.  In New York City, two out of five pregnancies are terminated.  That’s double the national rate.  As Walter Russell Mead puts it, the Johnson legacy has left many cities with a “holocaust of youth and hope on a scale hard to match.”

Under Bruening’s theory, this was never supposed to happen.  Providing a financial cushion was supposed to create an environment where the lower class could prosper.  It was supposed to replace anxiety with the courage to succeed.  Instead, we’ve seen little progress in creating a culture of responsibility and family values.  Bruening’s plea for a child allowance credit will therefore not do much to deter the rotten lifestyle that either kills off its unborn or raises children to be antisocial delinquents.

It shouldn’t be hard to see why.  In economics, incentives matter. If you pay people to have children, they will have more.  But a guaranteed income doesn’t automatically translate into a loving and secure upbringing.  There is no mechanism that forces that money to go toward diapers, mashed peas, formula, or proper schooling.  It’s simply free cash that encourages irresponsible sex.

Such efforts require a more individual level of influence.  Personal stories shared by women about terminated pregnancies can go a long way in showing just how the potentiality of motherhood weighs heavy on those who gave it up.  They can be used to condemn the act of infanticide while not forgetting the flawed human beings who go through with the practice.  More should be welcomed into the public sphere.  The Kermit Gosnells of the world should not make pro-lifers shy away from engaging on a truly deep level.

Throwing money at an issue as contentious and despairing as unfettered abortion is a non-starter.  Government subsidies fail to get to the core of the matter – namely, the fact that denying the chance to live for the most defenseless among us is too vile for words.  That explains why most women regret missing their chance to create and nurture a brand new life.

Proponents of a government-provided child allowance program might have their hearts in the right place, but the world doesn’t always run on humanitarian ideas.  Decades of Sexual Revolution politicking and a false sense of liberty created the modern abortion debate.  It’s going to take decades to reverse the cultural backslide.  The last thing a pro-life advocate should ask for is another government program.