The pro-life movement has always promoted the well-being of mothers and children in general -- not just of children in the womb.  Even after the demise of Roe v. Wade, killing developing babies remains legal in many states, so protecting their lives is still crucial.  But in places where their lives are already protected, the spotlight will shift even more to helping mothers and children in general.

This change may unearth a latent faultline even among the ranks of the pro-life movement:  For how should the well-being of mothers and children be promoted?

Some pro-life folk may assume, like many politicians, that the best thing to do for women with children is to throw money and benefits at them.  Others, reasoning that it is in the best interests of women with children to marry the father rather than the government, and that a culture of dependency keeps people in poverty forever, may assume that the one thing necessary is to encourage sexual restraint, stable marriage, paid employment, responsible parenting, and loving family life.

Both sides are partly right.  The latter approach is obviously more fundamental; the sexual revolution has disordered families, impoverished women, and done grave injury to children, and the wrong kind of material incentives can generate further disorder.  But just as obviously, women in trouble need some material assistance.  Their children need doctors.  Deadbeat dads need to be traced and required to contribute support.  Mothers with small children should be free to care for them; they should not be expected to chuck them into daycare and go off to work themselves.

The difficulty is to distinguish between forms of “help” that help, and forms of “help” that hurt.

This may seem a purely sociological puzzle.  It isn’t.  What makes the problem difficult is that there are strong vested interests in favor of answering it the wrong way.

Corporations don’t want their employees to be distracted; they want women to be free from the competing responsibilities of family life.  Social work bureaucrats aren’t interested in working themselves out of their jobs; they want a permanent clientele.  If they see the poor at all, politicians see them as political dependents; they want voters who can be bribed.  And too many churches would rather give handouts than involve themselves in the messy business of bringing people into the community, bringing order to their lives, and helping them get on their feet.

To say these things isn’t cynical.  It’s just life.  If we really want to help people, we had better remember original sin.