Now that the nearly 50-year struggle to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states to pass laws that recognize the unborn has proved successful, where does family-based conservatism go from here?
The Supreme Court's decision to reverse Roe comes at a time when the conservative movement was already debating what it believes, as the unsteady three-legged stool of robust foreign policy, social conservatism and economic freedom has been knocked over in favor of the burgeoning populism of the new right.
Those debates will undoubtedly continue, but I’d like to suggest that we are in a moment when shaping our policy proposals around the basic social building block of the family is both a winning strategy and one good for human flourishing.
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What would family-based conservatism look like? First, it should begin by protecting the most fragile members of our human family. As the abortion debate moves to the states, conservatives should work to pass meaningful restrictions on the practice.
Survey shows support for abortion restrictions
Though Americans don’t yet favor a total ban on abortion as advocates like me would like, there is growing support among Americans for significant restrictions. According to a new survey conducted by Lifeway Research and The Land Center for Cultural Engagement (full disclosure: I’m the director), 41% of Americans favor restrictions after the sixth week of pregnancy, 52% favor restrictions after the 12th week, 59% favor a ban on abortions after 15 weeks and 65% favor a ban after 20 weeks.
What’s more, 35% of Americans believe life begins at conception. And 28% believe life begins at the detection of the first heartbeat.
The end of Roe could be the dawn of a new era in which the most vulnerable among us are seen not as inconveniences to be discarded but as full and welcomed participants in America’s promise of liberty.
But conservatives shouldn’t be satisfied with merely passing laws that recognize the dignity of the unborn. We should supplement the growing network of pregnancy resource centers and other compassionate endeavors by championing policies that help sustain a healthy and flourishing family life.
Patrick Brown, a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in The New York Times, “Helping women, including low-income and working-class women, gain access to more resources during pregnancy and after childbirth will reduce the demand for abortion while state legislatures pass bills restricting the supply. Republican lawmakers should coalesce around a legislative package that takes seriously the unique needs of mothers and their babies.”
Our survey showed there is significant support for this, with 81% of Americans, including 61% of pro-life Americans, saying they believe state governments have a responsibility to increase support and options for women who have unwanted pregnancies.
This growing support fits well with many conservatives' growing openness to economic policies that buoy family stability. This is why pro-life advocacy groups such as Susan B. Anthony List are building infrastructure to help champion and deliver services to women and families in need.
This new realignment comes at a time when the political map is shifting, with increasing numbers of working-class voters, long the dependable voting block of Democrats, moving their votes across the aisle in resistance to the left’s identity politics and culture wars.
What progressives get wrong about Roe: Now, it's citizens who will decide
This movement was accelerated by a global pandemic in which many school boards decided to move to digital learning and to increase the teaching of ideologies many parents found objectionable. Conservatives should continue to stand up for the rights of parents to shape their children’s education, both through reform of public schools and school choice to ensure children get the very best education.
This advocacy fits alongside the sustained effort to ensure the religious liberty of people of faith, protecting the rights of Americans to live out their deeply held beliefs in the community, on campus and at work.
Conservatives should embrace immigration
A family-first conservativism should also embrace new ideas on immigration. To sustain healthy family life, we need both strong border security and increased options for legal immigration. Haphazard border policies have led to the importing of drugs like fentanyl that prey on families, leading to despair and isolation.
Yet, conservatives should not be afraid of expanded opportunities for legal immigration, where those yearning to live in freedom, to raise their own families in peace and stability, and to become citizens who appreciate – perhaps more than those of us who were born here – the unique promise of America.
And recent voting trends seem to indicate that working-class immigrant families and their offspring form natural allies with social conservatives who value family, freedom and faith. Increased legal immigration might also help solve America’s birth-rate crisis.
Help families to feel safe
Last, conservatives have a lot to offer when it comes to the growing problem of crime and gun violence. The multilayered challenges of alienated young men, availability of guns and a mental health crisis exacerbated by the pandemic afford an opportunity for us to craft policies that make families feel safe when they drop their kids off to school or go to church.
Of course, conservatives can and should debate the finer details of what a pro-family agenda looks like, and good people on all sides may disagree on exactly what is most efficient for government to execute and what is best left to mediating religious and civic institutions.
This kind of pro-family platform will require both a commitment to core principles and an openness to new ideas. And will demand new allegiances and new alliances.
Where a generation ago, conservatives saw corporate America as an ally, we might be more wary of the C-suite, which too often colludes with the left in blindly championing radical social policies.
At the same time, where conservatives might have not seen the working class as part of their coalition, today they could welcome this new cohort in an attempt to build strong social foundations for family flourishing.
Where some see the end of Roe as an electoral earthquake, conservatives could see it as an opportunity to coalesce a coherent vision for flourishing. But it will take creativity and courage.
Daniel Darling is director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a frequent contributor to USA TODAY and is the author of several books, including his latest, "The Characters of Creation."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: With Roe overturned, conservatives must work to strengthen families