WASHINGTON (OSV News) — The proposed “Care for Her Act” promises to provide what its title suggests: support for women, specifically pregnant and parenting women. National pro-life leaders also stress the importance of the bill, which the House has not yet taken up this term, and similar pieces of legislation, as the maternal mortality rate continues to rise in the U.S.
The bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2021 does not mention the word “abortion,” but some pro-life and congressional leaders say that it would empower pregnant women to choose life.
Most recently, while marking the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., chair of the House Republican Conference and a Catholic, expressed support for the Care for Her Act.
“I truly believe that the Supreme Court entrusted all of us with the responsibility of taking an important and deeply personal issue and building consensus to provide every child, mother, family, and especially the unborn, this truly precious and sacred opportunity at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” she said in June 20 remarks at the National Press Club.
The bill “would address some of the major issues pregnant and parenting women face,” Serrin M. Foster, president of Feminists for Life, told OSV News.
“The pro-life movement should absolutely support legislation of this sort as it acknowledges the reality of a preborn child and how expectant women and families need to be connected with life-affirming resources,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America and Students for Life Action, told OSV News.
The Care for Her Act drew national attention for its comprehensive approach to supporting pregnant women and their unborn children following its introduction by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., — a Catholic lawmaker who later resigned from Congress in 2022 after being convicted of three felonies tied to illegal campaign contributions.
The 2021 bill listed Stefanik as one of 13 co-sponsors.
The bill promises to facilitate support and services to women with unexpected pregnancies and, more generally, to meet the needs of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing. It attempts to address not only women’s physical and financial needs, but also their emotional and social needs.
At the time, a diverse set of national pro-life groups recognized the bill, including Feminists for Life, Live Action, Rehumanize International and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s Charlotte Lozier Institute, as well as Catholic institutions such as the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey.
Many leaders focus on four particular features of the bill: A federal-state collaborative to assess and compile available support for pregnant women; an expansion of the child tax credit to include unborn children; federal grants for women’s practical needs, including maternal housing, job training, and other educational opportunities; and incentives to improve maternal and infant health while reducing mortality.
Hawkins, who leads the nation’s largest pro-life young adult organization with more than 1,400 groups on school campuses, highlighted features of the Care for Her Act, such as the expansion of the child tax credit.
“As a mother of four, I know the expenses that come with having a child don’t just start when they’re born,” she said. “Allowing expectant parents to use the Child Tax Credit prior to birth respects this fact and aids in creating financially stable atmospheres.”
Hawkins also commented on the bill’s comprehensive nature.
“Promoting pregnancy and parenting resources to provide support both before and after birth … also increases healthy and happy families,” she added, pointing to Students for Life’s own initiative to provide resources called Standing With You.
Feminists for Life also hosts a site offering support for pregnant and parenting women, called WomenDeserveBetter.com. As a self-described grassroots organization dedicated to eliminating the causes that drive women to abortion through holistic, woman-centered solutions, FFL continues to back the bill.
“Feminists for Life urges federal and state legislators to focus on systematically eliminating the coercive reasons that drive women to abortion, primarily a lack of support for pregnant women and parents,” Foster said.
“The poor and women of color are disproportionately affected,” she said. “Women who are struggling to acquire a college degree feel forced to choose between the education that would help lift them out of poverty or sacrificing their children. The lack of support from the fathers of the children they conceived together continues the feminization of poverty.”
Other pro-life groups, such as the national March for Life organization, are still in the process of examining the bill.
While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities has not taken a public position on it, some of the bill’s proposals align with its stated priorities. In a 2022 letter to Congress, the bishops outlined policies that advance women, children and families, including making the child tax credit available the year before birth and addressing maternal mortality and morbidity.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in March, 1,205 women died of maternal causes in 2021 — a sharp increase in a steady rise compared with 861 maternal deaths in 2020, 754 in 2019, and 658 in 2018.
The CDC relies on the World Health Organization’s definition of a maternal death as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy … from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
Drawing from data from the National Vital Statistics System, the CDC reported the maternal mortality rate rose to 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021. The rate for Black women is higher than for white or Hispanic women, with 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021.
A study released in 2020 by the Commonwealth Fund comparing maternal mortality in the U.S. to 10 other high-income countries found that the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries.
Katie Yoder writes for OSV News from the Washington, D.C., area.
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