Former Vice President Mike Pence has been vocal about his support for federal abortion restrictions. During an appearance on CNN last month, the GOP presidential hopeful was asked whether governments that restricted abortion had a financial responsibility to support families facing unexpected pregnancies. He responded that he supported such policies of “compassion.”
“If we’re going to stand for life, we have to care as much for newborns and mothers as we do for the unborn,” Pence said. Asked if that included paid family leave and subsidized child care, Pence wouldn’t say outright.
While some Republican state legislatures have paired abortion bans with additional funding for social programs — including to pay for diapers — Republican presidential candidates pushing for federal restrictions have offered scant details about what kind of policies they would champion to explicitly support pregnant people and families.
Advocates pushing for increased government support for women and families say proposals like a federal paid family leave program and increased federal subsidies to address the nation’s child care crisis are obvious family-friendly policies largely missing from the GOP campaign trail — though, they say, they don’t replace the need for accessible and legal reproductive care.
“When there have been opportunities to pass the policies that pregnant people and parenting people and families need to thrive, the vast majority of Republicans have opposed them,” said Shaina Goodman, a policy expert with the National Partnership for Women and Families, which has for years championed a federal paid family and medical leave program. “None of these policies, however, account for what it means to be pregnant when you don’t want to be and what the process of pregnancy and childbirth does to someone physically, emotionally — how it changes families, economically.”
The impact of abortion bans in post-Roe America is becoming more clear on a wide scale. An April study from the Society of Family Planning found a 6 percent drop in the number of legal abortions nationwide in the six months that followed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that put an end to federal abortion rights. The decline exceeded researchers’ projections.
Even as the battle over abortion access continues to play out in states and at the federal level, the data represents permanent impact to the patchwork of American families.
The leading Republican primary candidates are broadly supportive of abortion restrictions, but Pence has made federal abortion restrictions a cornerstone of his campaign, criticizing other GOP candidates for not going far enough on the issue. Pence’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
In an interview with Politico, Pence said he supports public funding for anti-abortion counseling centers and to make adoption more affordable.
Republican voters may be concerned by the impact of these changes. During a panel about the future of abortion restrictions at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual summit in Washington, D.C., in June, one woman who declined to share her name asked the panelists — two anti-abortion state lawmakers and a representative of a religious adoption agency — to address the nation’s overburdened foster care system.
“For every action, there’s a reaction,” she said, adding that her grandchildren were previously in foster care.
Julie Kashen, a policy expert with the Century Foundation, a liberal think tank, said policies like increased federal subsidies for child care have broad bipartisan support. She said Republicans do champion child care and pointed to increases to the federal block grant program for child care during the Trump administration. President Joe Biden in April signed an executive order related to the federal block grant program that would cap child care fees for families and urge states to accept online applications to improve access.
Kashen said support falls short among Republicans when talking about building a program that “guarantees that every family has access to child care” and that workers are paid competitive, livable wages.
She pointed to the Build Back Better Act championed by Biden, which at one point included significant funding to build out a pre-K system for the country that targeted both middle- and low-income families. The proposal cleared the Democrat-controlled House but did not make it out of the Senate. “We did not see Republican support for it in the Senate,” Kashen said. “And that was the closest we’ve gotten in 50 years.”
E.V. Osment of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which recently held an event with Pence to mark the anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, said the group stood in support of federal financial and physical resources for families facing pregnancy. Osment said the group backs a bill introduced by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that, among other things, increases the child tax credit and allows parents to use their Social Security benefits to take three months of paid parental leave.
Kashen said such policies can force families to decide between retirement security and caring for a new child.
“Most Americans know what true policies of compassion are. They are what we’ve been fighting for for decades, including child care for all, paid family and medical leave for all, support for people with disabilities and our aging loved ones. And the freedom to make decisions about when and what our families look like,” Kashen said.