Pro-life leaders focus on “safety net” policies

Pro-life leaders focus on “safety net” policies ( Patricia Prudente/Unsplash)

Advocates expect few changes in existing protections for unborn babies before November’s election

(WORLD) For four staff members at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, the first few weeks of the year can be a mad dash. During these weeks, state public affairs director Kelsey Pritchard and three regional directors watch governors’ annual state of the state addresses to keep tabs on what the leaders are saying about abortion. The four staff members track the abortion-related legislative victories governors are celebrating and the policy issues they will prioritize in the year ahead.

The “mad dash” happens on days when there’s more than one speech to catch. This year, governors in seven states scheduled their addresses for Jan. 9, and an eighth governor gave an inaugural address.

That afternoon, during her address, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem spent almost four minutes talking about the state’s resources for pregnant and new moms and their babies. She was one of several governors this year to champion what Pritchard calls a “pro-life safety net,” policies and state resources offering practical support to families.

It’s not just state governors who are talking about this safety net in 2024. Pro-life legislative groups are also increasing their focus on policies that could help remove the perceived need for abortions. This long-standing priority for the pro-life movement is receiving extra attention as some states face roadblocks to increasing existing protections for unborn babies.

“I know there are bills out there,” Pritchard said, referring to state legislation to protect unborn babies starting at conception or once they have a detectable heartbeat. But, she added, “I don’t know of any states … where it’s really likely to get through and be signed by the governor.”

The reason, she said, is because many state legislatures haven’t become more pro-life since the latest attempts to enact protections for unborn babies—such as in Nebraska, where the makeup of the state’s single-chamber legislature won’t change until after elections in November. Lawmakers’ attempts to pass a heartbeat bill there last year failed, and the legislature settled for protections after 12 weeks of pregnancy instead.

[Click here to subscribe to Pregnancy Help News!]

“Many states are either carrying over from last session or moving forward with other priorities,” said Bradley Kehr, government affairs director for Americans United for Life, pointing to states like Florida that passed stronger protections in 2023. “And now there’s a little bit more of a shift towards the pregnancy resource centers.”

Kehr listed support for pregnant moms as one of three main priorities for his organization this year—along with legislation to combat assisted suicide and the influx of chemical abortion pills into pro-life states. As a part of these priorities, the team at Americans United for Life is focusing on bills to establish tax credits for people who donate to pregnancy centers. States such as Alabama and West Virginia have introduced legislation of that kind in the current session. So far, none of the bills have progressed past the committee stage.

Pritchard listed similar tax credit legislation along with other “pro-life safety net” bills that SBA is championing this year. Safe haven legislation allows struggling parents to surrender newborns legally, sometimes in safe haven baby boxes. Other bills seek to lighten the financial strain on parents, such as one SBA supports in Indiana that would allow parents to classify unborn children as dependents for tax purposes. Pritchard said SBA also supports improved adoption policies and solutions for making childcare more affordable for working parents.

Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, said it’s too early in the year to tell how far any pro-life bills will make it through the legislative process. But she said she’s heard from affiliates about bills to establish supports such as a sales tax exemption for diapers and other baby items and to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage.

Duran said helping moms and families has always been a focus for pro-lifers, with many states funding alternatives to abortion programs even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. She believes more pro-life states are gravitating to these policies now, motivated to action by the pro-abortion states that have begun funding abortions. “[Pro-life] states just feel like they need to maybe increase the visibility of some of the programs that are there, and put more funding towards programs to address some of the needs and the reasons why women may choose abortion,” Duran said.

Tweet This: Helping moms and families has always been a focus for pro-lifers.

One of these states is Iowa. Gov. Kim Reynolds in her January Condition of the State address called on lawmakers to increase postpartum Medicaid coverage. Currently, Iowa’s government-funded health insurance program covers postpartum expenses up to 60 days after birth. Reynolds wants new moms who make less than $42,000 a year to benefit from that coverage for a whole year. The bill advanced in the legislature last week.

“I think it’s a good move to expand that Medicaid coverage,” said Maggie DeWitte, executive director for the Iowa pro-life group Pulse for Life. She said another bill is working its way through the state legislature that will improve existing legislation establishing government funding for pregnancy centers.

But one policy Reynolds did not highlight in her speech was a bill also in the legislature that would establish protections for unborn babies starting at conception: the Human Life Protection Act. Currently in Iowa, abortion is legal until 20 weeks of gestation. Lawmakers last year passed legislation to protect unborn babies once they have detectable heartbeats, but that law is on hold in the state courts.

“I think right now, everybody’s kind of in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens,” DeWitte said.

But that heartbeat bill, she said, is not the “end game” for pro-lifers in Iowa. “Our goal is to protect all human life from the moment of fertilization,” DeWitte said. “And so as such, we’re going to continue to press our legislators to the need to have a life at conception bill.”

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the February14, 2024, issue of WORLD Magazine. Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2023 WORLD News Group. All rights reserved. To read more Biblically objective journalism that informs, educates, and inspires, call (828) 435-2981 or visit

To contact us regarding an article or send a tip, click here.

Related Articles