The nuclear family has been struggling for a while now. Low birth rates, low marriage rates, and constant attacks on what a family “should” look like have taken their toll, and we are starting to see the impacts of this in our society. Based on this, the Ethics and Public Policy Council recently released a document entitled “Envisioning a Pro-Family Policy Agenda: A Statement of Principles.” This document outlines eleven tenets that should guide a pro-life, pro-family approach to policymaking, with the ultimate goal of strengthening the family unit.
This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes back Patrick T. Brown, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, to discuss the importance of a pro-family agenda, especially in a post-Dobbs world.
Brown explains that, “In the wake of the Dobbs decision this summer, it really became clear. . . that we need to be intentional about thinking about the ways that that new landscape calls on us to have a different type of politics and really be putting the needs of families first when we’re addressing some of the political questions of the day.” He goes on to discuss the importance of marriage and the impact that it has, the myth of overpopulation, and the role that government plays in supporting families.
While there are many ways that the pro-family agenda can be enacted, Brown shares that, “The biggest change needs to come in making our culture and our society, our communities, more family friendly.” Whether it’s in the workforce, the education system, or our community, we can all benefit from adopting a pro-family agenda. He ends by saying, “I think [we’re] going to be seeing more of a drum beat as we head into the new Congress, and I’m hopeful that politicians will be thinking about putting families first when it comes to these topics.”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Our vision here at the North Carolina Family Policy Council is a state and nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished. We work hard to help lawmakers and citizens craft policies that will help that vision become more of a reality.
Well, recently a group of scholars published a statement of principles to offer political leaders all over the country a sound foundation for a pro-life and pro-family agenda following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Patrick T. Brown a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center joins us today to discuss this statement, which is entitled, “Envisioning a Pro-Family Policy Agenda: A Statement of Principles.” Patrick Brown, welcome back to Family Policy Matters.
PATRICK BROWN: Thanks so much. It’s good to be back.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great. So you say the statement is a response to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. How did that Dobbs decision in the summer create an opening or perhaps a necessity for a statement like this?
PATRICK BROWN: The movement to orient our politics in a more pro-family direction has, obviously, been going on, as you all have been on the ground floor of and other groups as well. There’s always been this movement to try to see where we can be strengthening families, not just as cultural institutions but as economic ones as well. Those discussions have been going on, but as you point out, in the wake of the Dobbs decision this summer, it really became clear to a lot of us that we need to be intentional about thinking about the ways that that new landscape calls on us to have a different type of politics and really be putting the needs of families first when we’re addressing some of the political questions of the day.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Do you think that the criticism from pro-abortion groups that conservatives are not putting their money where their mouth is policy wise, as far as supporting the family, especially babies after birth, is that warranted criticism, do you think?
PATRICK BROWN: No, not necessarily. Conservatives have always understood the importance of strong families, and that’s something that’s at the core of our approach to the political landscape. We also want to invigorate where family life happens, the day-to-day interactions with civil society, with your church groups, with volunteer organizations that provide meaningful assistance to moms in need. And that is always going to be front and center of any conservative response to a post-Dobbs era, but I think there is a growing recognition that there needs to be a policy response to support that work as well, not to take it over, not to crowd it out, but to recognize there are some things that — for example, pre-natal and post-natal care for moms, that stuff needs to be done in a clinical setting, and a well-meaning volunteer organization isn’t always going to have the tools to be able to provide that, especially in a post-Dobbs era in which there might be more women who need those services than there were before. So that might be a place for a government to be more proactive and finding ways that we can work together to build capacity in those institutions of civil society, I think that’s where conservatives are moving towards and where, I think, putting our money where our mouth is is really coming into fruition.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So who were these scholars who got together to write the statement? Who are they?
PATRICK BROWN: It’s really a who’s who of conservative family policy scholarship, everybody from Allan Carlson, who has written more books than I can name on the history of the family; Robert George, a legal scholar at Princeton University; Helen Alvaré a legal theorist at George Mason University, and then some younger up-and-coming writers as well: Leah Libresco Sargeant, who has written for the New York Times on her experience as a pro-life mother who has experienced miscarriage and a more compassionate way of understanding what unplanned pregnancy situations go through; Ramesh Ponnuru, the editor of National Review; people from across the conservative movement.
And then we also expanded it as well to other folks across the spectrum. The chairperson of Democrats for Life of America wanted to join in as well. So we really had dozens of people who have had influence on how we think about families and how we think about policy and where the next step of the conservative approach to some of these things should be oriented going forwards.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Did you say the Democrats for Life were a part of the statement as well?
PATRICK BROWN: It’s a pretty small group, unfortunately, but they do have some board members and they reached out to us about wanting to sign on. But we can have these bipartisan conversations about not just restricting the supply of abortion, although that will always be front and center of what we do as pro-lifers but also addressing the demand for abortion, the feeling that some women feel like there’s just no other choice because they can’t afford it or because they aren’t sure if they’re going to be able to have childcare to be able to continue to work if they have a child. Those types of situations — I think there can be some room for bipartisan work on, and in that frame of reference, we’re happy to have them join.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: With the many pressing issues in our country — I mean the list is so long right now — why do we prioritize public policy surrounding families? Why is it important?
PATRICK BROWN: Because the family is the cornerstone of a thriving society, as I think — as you guys know — if you don’t have strong families, you have all of these other social ills that spin out from that, whether it’s crime or gun violence or anything like that. And so especially in this new era that we’re in, it’s going to be essential for us to be thinking about families front and center. And there’s a political angle as well. We’ve seen that Republicans have tapped into a lot of unrest from parents over what’s being taught in their schools and the messages that are being pushed out to kids these days. Recognizing that some of the challenges that face parents are cultural but also economic as well can help us position this kind of agenda in a way that responds to what parents need. And so the idea that we should be thinking about the needs of babies and moms in those first critical postpartum months has a new importance but also just making parents’ lives easier is always going to be important, and that goes beyond childbirth to the full 18 years of life. So having families as our sort of fundamental building block and our fundamental lens of analysis for public policy can push the conversation in a very helpful direction.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: One of the first key points of the statement is to seek to strengthen the bond of marriage. So talk about this because this seems like it would be obvious, but in our society today it’s not necessarily, is it?
PATRICK BROWN: Right. Again, when we think about the children that are being born, we want to give them the best chance of a healthy future that they can, and we know not just from thousands of years of tradition but also from fairly rigorous social science, the most stable place and the place where children thrive the most is in a household with two parents, preferably two married parents, who are committed to each other, who are there for the long haul and can give those kids the support they need and share the burden of raising children because it is expensive and it is time consuming and can be challenging for people to balance all of those demands. And there is always a need to recognize that the best chance of success for kids is going to be in a married household. So if we’re talking about kids and we’re talking about families, encouraging marriage as the cornerstone of that effort is essential in an authentically pro-family lens.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: The statement also specifically addresses unique challenges facing men and boys. Why is that an important thing to include in there? Do boys get forgotten, do you think, in our society?
PATRICK BROWN: Yeah, I think so. It takes two to tango, right? Any time you have an unplanned pregnancy, there’s always a man involved in creating that pregnancy, and there are a lot of men out there who feel like they’re unable to support a family because of their earning potential or just they’ve never had the role models in their lives to show them what it means to step up and do the right thing. And so inattention on the labor force participation for men, it’s been slowly declining over the last decades, and so recognizing that the economy that we’re in, it requires different skills than it did 40 or 50 years ago. And so if you’re a woman who is a nurse or something, this is a great time to find a job, but if you’re a man who is used to working in a blue collar industry, sometimes those jobs are much more difficult to find and less stable than they used to be. So recognizing that men have a role to play, they have responsibilities to play, and with those responsibilities come an obligation for us to be looking out to make sure those men can be the providers and the caretakers, and the role models that their kids are going to need.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right. You don’t only deal with social issues in the statement. What are some economic principles that are also important for a pro-family policy agenda? You mentioned a few of them at the beginning.
PATRICK BROWN: Well, you have to be talking about both sides of the equation. Just talking about families as a cultural battle is leaving aside some of the economic stresses on family life, and the easiest way to think about this is having children costs time. It costs money. There’s also the opportunity cost of having a kid. If you’re having a kid, you can’t be doing other things. So parents bear the cost of having a child, and the benefits of there being children flow to society. There’s future workers. There’s future innovators, future job creators. There’s all sorts of reasons why we would want there to be more kids and more people in this world because that just makes the world a better place. Right? So thinking about ways we can be subsidizing the cost of family life, making it a little less burdensome for parents to have to buy diapers and buy food and pay for school and books and all of that sort of stuff. Just giving parents a little more money at the end of the month or at the beginning of the month can help address a lot of those things, and then there are certain sectors of the economy, like improving the way the childcare operates, making sure that parents have choices of childcare providers and that sort of thing that we can sort of attack discreetly. But overall just helping parents afford the cost of having a kid in this day and age should be a central point of a Republican agenda, and we’re seeing Republican politicians like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah proposing policies that would do just that.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So how do you respond to people who say we should not be encouraging people to have more children because we are over populated?
PATRICK BROWN: That is such a relic of the 1970s. That mindset is really outdated at this point because fertility rates are at an all-time low. In the country of South Korea, for example, they’re having less than one child per woman. So it’s not only not replacing the family unit, but they’re actually on track to lose half of their population by the end of the century. This is catastrophic for societies, and, thankfully, the U.S. isn’t quite as far gone as South Korea, but the trends are not heading in the right direction. And there are so many economic and social consequences that come into play when you have a declining population that we should be considerably more worried about under population and negative population growth than we should be about over population.
And, again, this isn’t just about cranking out the birth rate as high as they can go. We also want to be concerned about the quality of life those kids are going to have, and that’s where we come back to stressing the family and stressing marriage as helping provide a stable environment for those kids. So it is about helping support people who have children, but it’s also about making sure those children have the support they need.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: The statement says that public policy alone cannot transform family life for the better. We as individuals have some work to do to improve our own communities and our own family life, right?
PATRICK BROWN: Totally. There’s only a limited amount of change that can be made from the federal level. Again, the government is very good at writing checks and is very bad when it gets into other areas of life, so having a substantive child tax credit is a good thing. But having it play the nanny state of the Build Back Better approach that President Biden was proposing last year where we would basically have a federally run childcare program would be a tremendous disservice. And so there are definitely ways that we can be supporting families through policy, but, ultimately, the biggest change needs to come in making our culture and our society, our communities, more family friendly. And that can look like a lot of different things. It can look like colleges and universities making it more possible for people to get married and have kids when they’re in graduate school or even in undergrad. It can mean workplaces becoming more family friendly and prioritizing benefits for new parents over some of these other environmental justice goals that they like to talk about. And really new parents are some of the ones that are going to need the most tangible support, especially in those early months of life.
So it’s going to look different for different institutions and in different communities, but orienting our society around supporting families is going to require a different way of doing business. And, again, in a post-Dobbsera, that’s going to be incumbent on all of us to be thinking about in the situation that I’m in, are there steps that I could be making to make it easier on families and to make it easier on parents and give them more options to live the life that they want to. I think that’s going to be the work ahead for all of us.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great. Good point. We’re about out of time, but tell us what you hope policy makers are going to do. Obviously, the first step, you would like them to go and download the statement, but what are you hoping that they will actually practically do with the statement?
PATRICK BROWN: First, go to EPPC.org and read it and internalize it. It was intended to be a 30,000-foot statement of principle. So it’s not a detailed policy agenda, but I’m hopeful that more politicians will take it and apply it to the way that they think about policy making. We were really excited to see that the Republican Study Committee, which is some of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives, came out with their own family policy agenda that adopted a lot of these principles and talked explicitly about addressing the cultural and economic stresses on family life. The fact that they’re talking about it, I think you’re going to be seeing more of a drum beat as we head into the new Congress, and I’m hopeful that politicians will be thinking about putting families first when it comes to these topics.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. Patrick T. Brown, a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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