President Donald Trump wants abortion to dominate the confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. What better way to divide Americans while distracting people from this country's anti-children policies?
Full disclosure. I'm pro-choice. I am dismayed by the prospect that Kavanaugh's appointment could eventually lead to overturning Roe v. Wade despite stare decisis on a woman's right to privacy.
But I am also a realist. This isn't 1973. Should the high court overturn Roe, close to two dozen states would quickly pass laws outlawing or further restricting abortion.
Only women in anti-abortion states unwilling or unable to travel would suffer immediate harm. Some legislatures may even outlaw the use of telemedicine and mail-order pharmacy for some forms of birth control and pregnancy termination. But such measures will not deter women with unwanted pregnancies who can afford to travel to states where abortion will remain legal.
So, as we hunker down for months of culture wars over the abortion issue, here's a question worth pondering: Wouldn't it be nice if the governing party in Washington cared as much about the well-being of children and their mothers during and after birth as they do about fetuses?
The news on that score is beyond depressing. The Trump administration recently extended its anti-science, pro-corporate attitudes into long-settled realms with a surreptitious campaign to scuttle a World Health Organization resolution supporting breast feeding.
News reports suggest Abbott Laboratories and Nestle, the world's leading makers of infant formula, played no role in the effort. No wonder. There's more than a half-century of well-documented science backing the health benefits of mother's milk, especially in developing countries where diarrheal and infectious diseases are major baby killers.
If this administration wants to address an issue that actually worries infant formula makers, they should investigate why the U.S. birth rate fell last year to an all-time low of 1.7 children per woman. That's well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children, thus making the long-term finances of the nation's retirement programs dependent on, ahem, immigrants.
There's no mystery behind why it has fallen so low. The U.S. has the least child-friendly policies in the developed world.
It is the only advanced industrial country that doesn't require paid maternity leave. Companies do not voluntarily make up the slack. Only 6% of U.S. corporations offer time off with pay to a new parent.
Workplace day care is just as scarce, even though it more than pays for itself in terms of retention and recruitment. Only 17 of the Fortune 100 companies offer that service. It's even rarer at smaller businesses.
Millennials just starting families are hard-pressed to pay for day care on their own. The average day-care cost per child is now $1,000 a month. That's hard to come up with when you're still paying off your student loans, which have skyrocketed for the younger generation.
The U.S. also lags far behind other industrialized countries in early childhood education. We're in the bottom third in rankings by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in preschool participation for 4-year-olds, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.
The lack of government support harms poor children the most. Over 10 million kids age 5 and under are on Medicaid. Yet less than a million are enrolled in Head Start. Though the program got a much-needed boost from Congress in this year's budget (Trump had asked for less), it enrolled 50,000 fewer kids last year than it did in 2011.
The healthcare system isn't doing mothers any favors, either. The overmedicalization of childbirth has lifted the U.S. C-section rate above 30%, where it's been for years despite guidelines encouraging vaginal births. Unnecessary C-sections lead to longer hospital stays, increased maternal mortality and more complications in future deliveries.
No doubt many senators will parse Judge Kavanaugh's carefully crafted evasions on abortion before casting their votes. Sadly, what's happening to the kids will go unremarked.