Why it’s scary that ‘pro-family’ politics has evolved into ‘America First Pro-natalism’

May 13, 2022 2:23 pm

With the leaked Supreme Court draft portending a total overturning of the precedent of nationwide abortion access established nearly 50 years ago by Roe v. Wade, many have been left to ask what the policy landscape of a post-Roe America might look like.

While some Republicans have insisted that the fall of Roe would mean only that the question of abortion would be returned to the states, and Alito’s draft opinion goes to great lengths to stress the security of other closely related Constitutional rights, others in the GOP have already begun to argue for even more radical approaches to privacy and family policy. Access to contraception is at the center of such an equation, but these issues are all part of a more fundamental type of politics on the rise on the American right: pro-natalist, anti-immigrant nationalism.


In Arizona, Peter Thiel-backed Senate hopeful Blake Masters has insisted that opposition to Roe is not enough. Touting his desire to overturn the Griswold v. Connecticut decision, which protects the rights of married couples to obtain contraceptives, Masters promises to “vote only for federal judges who understand that Roe and Griswold and Casey were wrongly decided, and that there is no constitutional right to abortion.” (After the Arizona Mirror reported on his desire to overturn Griswold, Masters edited his website to remove that case from his criteria for evaluating federal judges.)

GOP Senate candidate Blake Masters wants to allow states to ban contraception use

In Michigan, all three of the then-candidates for the Republican nomination for attorney general expressed their opposition to Griswold, which is also the basis for Americans’ right to privacy, at their party’s debate. Michigan still has a pre-Roe law that makes performing an abortion a felony on the books. The state also has a pre-Lawrence law punishing sodomy, and some activists are concerned that the Lawrence v. Texas ruling that invalidated anti-sodomy laws could be under threat. Matthew DePerno, who has emerged as the GOP nominee for Michigan attorney general, has not indicated any change in his views that rulings like Roe and Griswold violate states’ rights.

Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas has sparked ire with recent reports that he plans to challenge a Supreme Court decision that requires public schools to educated migrant children, even if they are here illegally. Abbott’s gesture offers a glimpse into just how the nationalist side of the formula makes little room for the children of non-citizens. Such an attitude is also reflected in the policies of Trump-backed Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who has proposed Orbán-esque tax breaks for families with more than one child while also assailing the dearth of patriotism among the “childless left.” This is not “pro-children” or “pro-family” politics. It is “America First pro-natalism.”

To be clear, such a view naturally accommodates attacks on other “settled” rights that many in the Republican Party are busy assuring the public will not come under fire. The Obergefell v. Hodges decision recognizing the right of gay people to marry, in particular, is vulnerable to its corrosive logic. Writing in 2016 in the Ave Maria Law Review, Jason Carroll of BYU-Provo and Walter Schrumm of Kansas State, argue that states have an interest in the procreative aspects of marriage and that heterosexual relationships are special in this way. They write, “Because of the critical role opposite-sex marriage plays in perpetuating and maintaining the vital conceptual link between marriage and procreation, it warrants the exclusive recognition, promotion, and protection of the state.” Yes, advocates have thoroughly dismantled these kinds of arguments, but the link I am drawing out is what’s critical here.

This type of extremist right-wing nationalism, focused on fertility and firm boundaries as to who fall within and outside of the national community, is popular in other authoritarian and illiberalizing states. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán’s government launched nationalized IVF programs to combat the country’s staggering 1.23 fertility rate—a program that explicitly excludes gay women from participation. In Poland, where abortion access has become so restricted that it has reportedly led to deaths, proposals have been put forward to create a digital registry for tracking pregnancies and miscarriages. But the Polish and Hungarian cases also represent a form of populist big government that would likely divide some Republicans.

What is clear is the dovetailing of Trumpian, America First nationalism with pro-natalist politics that are hostile not only to abortion rights but to any threats to the heterosexual nuclear family. I have written before that Americans are at risk of seeing their freedoms balkanized into state-by-state issues, where not a few of these 50 states resemble little Polands and Hungarys.

We can and must continue to be concerned about American democracy writ large, but at the subnational level, the threat is already much more serious.


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Alan Elrod
Alan Elrod

Alan Elrod is the president and CEO of The Pulaski Institution, a think tank dedicated to the connection between global politics and economics and heartland areas. He lives outside Little Rock, Arkansas.