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Many states have anti-abortion laws. Will they provide a social safety net for moms?


The Supreme Court struck down half a century of federal abortion rights. And now a growing number of women are expected to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. If states are going to require pregnant women to give birth, are they also responsible for care for those children and their mothers? We asked Stuart Butler. He's a senior fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution.

STUART BUTLER: I believe that the state does have an obligation to ensure that both the mothers or the mothers to be and the children do have an adequate level of benefits to enable them to lead a reasonable life. I think that many advocates for restricting abortion have said, over and over again, that the value of the life is so important and the value of the child that is born is important. Well, I think they have to kind of walk the walk, put their money where their mouth is.

MARTIN: So conservatives like to point to what are called crisis pregnancy centers around the world. But can you just explain, though, what care is offered there and the limits of it?

BUTLER: Well, it's very little. It's more a question of referral services and, I suppose, moral support and comfort to these women. But it doesn't amount to much unless there are strong programs in place for the health and the advantages of the children. And that's just not the case in many of the states which have the most strong advocates for restricting abortion and have these crisis pregnancy centers.

If you look at the states that do least today to provide either health care or they have very low levels of support for children and pregnant women, those states are highly concentrated in the South. Over half of them do not have Medicaid available for many of the women who would be affected by this. And almost all of them either have trigger laws in place that will make abortion illegal or are likely to introduce some of those. So it's really sort of a double whammy for anybody living in those states with this decision on Roe. They are far less likely to have assistance for themselves and their children. And they're far less likely to have health care available to them when they are pregnant and for their children. I'm not really holding my breath for that, I have to say.

MARTIN: Well, and is there some hypocrisy here? Republicans and conservatives who've been pushing to overturn Roe for 50 years are the same lawmakers who have resisted family care policies, like extending the child tax credit, or passing federally protected family leave.

BUTLER: Well, it's certainly an odd combination to be saying, we are so concerned with life and with children that we want to ensure that no woman can have an abortion, but at the same time have done very little, if anything, to make available the resources that those women and children will need.

MARTIN: But what are you hearing, Mr. Butler, because you spent 35 years at the Heritage Foundation. I mean, you are a conservative. This was a - is a conservative think tank. These are your circles. These are your networks. Are you hearing that Republicans will be any more likely now after the court's decision to support these policies?

BUTLER: Well, I've not been looking carefully at each of the states, I have to say. But I certainly have not seen anything that suggest that there's going to be some fundamental change of direction. So that's what we're seeing over and over again, this simultaneous position of being very strongly pro-life, but at the same time being very strongly against expanding government assistance or raising taxes to fund government assistance. And I don't see any change in that on the horizon. And I think it is going to lead to really dire results in many of these states.

MARTIN: Can I ask you to expand? I mean, what will be the real-world implications of this?

BUTLER: Well, you're going to see, clearly, more people who traditionally have had abortions or most likely to have abortions in states obviously carrying their children to term. And that means people who are sort of in their late 20s, typically, disproportionately people of color, particularly people with low income who are unmarried. You're going to see many, many more of them, really, unable to provide for their children and obtain the health coverage that they need to have healthy children and to be healthy themselves during pregnancy.

I do believe it's a crisis - another crisis on top of an existing crisis in many of these states that already have very, very low benefits and no expanded Medicaid coverage. From the politics of the situation in many of these states, it's hard to see them changing towards a state that is much more open to expanding health and other benefits. So it's an enormous tragedy for the women and for the children who are going to be born.

MARTIN: I mean, already in this country, life expectancy is going down, especially for mothers and children. I mean, it's been on that trajectory already.

BUTLER: That's correct. And we have, of course, a maternal health crisis in this country. Compared with other countries, we have very, very high levels of maternal death - again, particularly among low-income women and women of color. That is going to increase. There's no question that that will increase. I think, ultimately, that we will never settle this issue unless we have legislative decisions, ideally at the national level, of course, rather than see it as a court issue. If you look at almost every other country that I can think of, they've resolved this issue through legislative changes, including changes to constitutions, not by court decisions. So I think this is going to be a litmus test for state races and for national races for, probably, decades to come.


BUTLER: I mean, we're going to be the outlier of every major industrial country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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