Rep. Jeffrey Fortenberry explains what is behind his "Care for Her" legislation.
Changes in Washington have pro-life advocates cconcerned. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has rescinded the Mexico City Policy, once again allowing for U.S. funding of abortion abroad. He has spoken about the need to codify Roe v. Wade, so that abortion will remain legal, even if the United States Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision. And Congress is gearing up for a fight over the so-called Hyde protections, which forbid the government to spend taxpayers’ money on abortion.
Congressman Jeffrey L. Fortenberry of Nebraska is preparing legislation that he says will shift the debate and help unify pro-life and pro-choice advocates in one cause: making sure that women in unexpected and crisis pregnancies know that there is always help for them to bring their unborn children to birth.
“The central question is this: ‘Can we see an unexpected pregnancy as our possibility, as our chance, as our desire to care for her?’ And that’s why we’ve named the bill ‘Care for Her,’” Fortenberry said in an interview with Aleteia last week.
The Republican congressman offered no concrete details of the legislation, which “are still being hammered out,” but said it is a new version of a bill he introduced a number of years ago. He said he is conducting a national survey concerning public and private initiatives that are available to women in crisis pregnancies, “so that we can have a more coordinated strategy.” He said he expects to introduce the bill “in a few weeks.”
In general, though, the legislation would ensure that “healthcare, social, and economic needs are available to care for her and the child,” Fortenberry said in an interview from his home base in Lincoln. “That is the core source of meaning in this bill, to create a community of care for this journey of life. … We have a lot of elements of this already out there across the nation, both the private initiatives, with beautiful pregnancy care centers, with certain state initiatives that, for instance, will reimburse holistic care clinics for women for wellness checks and such.
“So we are compiling, taking a look at costs and best practices, to see how we can actually enter into this space so that at that moment of an unexpected pregnancy, at that moment of a woman who is potentially facing difficulties, she knows that there is a care mechanism that will come immediately to her assistance to help nurture the child, nurture her well-being, be on a journey for life, with healthcare, with mentorship, potential for job training and child care later.”
Pregnancy care centers
Fortenberry, who has represented Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District since 2005, has a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee. He said that abortion often seems to be the only option, particularly for younger women who are “alone or frightened or fearful of the economic circumstances as to how to care for this child, or are being coerced by an uncaring man or worse yet by an uncaring medical establishment into an abortion.”
He argued that his legislation would change the paradigm of thinking “that even as a government we enter into the journey of life, so that the possibility of bringing about that human life is readily available, so that it shifts the dynamic of what we’ve labeled ‘choice.’”
Asked how pregnancy care centers would fit into the paradigm, he commented, “If you think about what the government’s role would be here, let’s say a pregnancy care center could augment its ability to receive reimbursements for basic types of care that are given to women, and it’s these kinds of dynamics where the government can wrap around additional revenue streams for the good work that pregnancy care centers are doing, that are consistent with good health outcomes. Yes, I definitely anticipate that as being a possibility.”
He added that “it is a great concern” that pro-choice advocates routinely try to pass legislation restricting the work of pregnancy care centers, charging that they are deceptive in offering women help when all they want to do is keep a woman from going to Planned Parenthood.
“The abortion industry wants to stamp out any real option for an authentic life-giving choice,” Fortenberry said. “And they have the power, and it’s very sad.”
Sandy Danek, Acting Executive Director of Nebraska Right to Life, said in an interview that the pro-life movement is already doing a lot of what Fortenberry envisions but that his legislation seems to be “a more comprehensive approach.”
“I think I especially care for the fact that it would be something that would help fill in the gaps,” Danek said. “Where there is a hole that needs to be filled for a woman in need, it sounds as though this legislation would assist with that.
“But more importantly, I think it’s the message it sends, that if we are going to be pro-life we are going to care for the woman when she is in an unplanned, stressful experience and reassure her that we’re there to offer her whatever support she needs so she can choose life,” she said. “As we know, often women are coerced into abortion because they feel there are no other alternatives for them, that we don’t have the life affirming options for them.”
Danek said she also likes the fact that the legislation would be “a validation of what these pregnancy care centers are all about: trying to offer that support to a woman in distress while helping her to see the vision of choosing life, not putting her in that predicament of ‘My only option is abortion.’”
Going beyond contention
For his part, Fortenberry suggested that the legislation would take the debate beyond contentious fights such as the one now underway over the Hyde Amendment.
“Our world is screaming for meaning, and our traditional approach is in just protecting Hyde,” he said. “As important as that is, it’s going to leave us all wanting for a new vision for what could be, our possibility, our chance, our opportunity, our desire to enter into that journey of life. … Not in any way to diminish Hyde. I stand for it, and we’ll fight for it. But if we can broaden that debate, I think we have a chance to appeal to people whose hearts are longing for something different.”
Said Fortenberry, “If we can wrap a community of care around her, for the nurturing, healthcare protection, meeting economic needs and the needs of the child all at once, we will have created a new form, a new vision, a new way of thinking about being pro-life.”