The Family Cap Is a Prolife Issue

Author: John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe


by John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe

The "family cap" is part of many welfare reform proposals. If it is implemented, the family cap will kill children. It is the beginning of forced abortion. It is based on deception and manipulation. Prolifers should fight the family cap, no matter what they think about other parts of welfare or welfare reform.

What is welfare all about?

There have always been some people who needed help to make it through life. In fact, everyone needs help during some years of life. But some need a little more help than others. In the Bible, Moses commanded a particular care for widows, orphans and strangers (or immigrants). When John the Baptist asked whether Jesus was the one who was to come, Jesus responded by listing the people whom he served: "The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and poor hear the good news."

In western civilization, for centuries, churches cared for the poor and needy. But in this century, there was a tremendous change, and the government began to assume this responsibility. The "welfare state" was born. Today, government provides food stamps and other food assistance, housing assistance, medical assistance, and cash.

Welfare has not worked well. Individuals on welfare often feel degraded. Often, family life has been destroyed, particularly among blacks. Often, children who grew up on welfare remain dependent as adults. And so today there is a nationwide determination to reform welfare.

What's welfare reform?

Welfare reform has two main goals.

The most obvious goal is putting people to work. When the American welfare program began in the Depression under President Roosevelt, it was for widows and their children. But over time, it expanded, especially under President Johnson. Today, one American in ten is receiving food stamps or some other form of assistance. Recipients include millions of people who are able to work. Obviously, work that provides enough income to be independent is better than welfare.

The second goal is trying to rebuild family life. One of the great catastrophes of the welfare state was a woman with a child could often get more financial support from the government than from a young and struggling husband. The way it worked out, there was a financial penalty for marriage. This was particularly devastating among blacks, whose family life had survived slavery, Reconstruction, poverty, segregation, and the KKK but could not stand up against welfare. Obviously, welfare should not damage family life.

Of course, the desire to save tax dollars is another reason for reform.

Why is welfare reform a prolife issue?

The work of the prolife movement is protecting preborn children from abortion. It has expanded to protect young children from infanticide and the elderly and handicapped from euthanasia. The movement has tried to understand some of the root causes of abortion, and has fought to protect family life and to oppose Planned Parenthood. But the movement has stayed focused, and has resisted the temptation to try to fix everything. For one thing, lethal assaults on preborn children in abortion clinics are 95 percent of the lethal violence in the nation, and protecting babies from abortion is an immense task. The prolife movement can't do everything, and shouldn't try.

But welfare reform is a prolife issue, because if it is done wrong, it may kill thousands of babies. It wasn't obvious how welfare would ruin families, and it isn't obvious how welfare reform can kill babies. But welfare reform, badly done, will make a bad situation even worse. The biggest problem is in the so- called "family cap."

What is the family cap?

The family cap is a way to tell mothers who are on welfare not to have any more children on welfare. If a child is conceived and born on welfare, there will be no benefits for that child.

The "family cap" is supposed to send a message, that the government will not continue to subsidize irresponsible behavior. Having children costs money, and you shouldn't do it if you don't have an income.

THE FAMILY CAP DOESN'T TELL WOMEN TO AVOID SEXUAL ACTIVITY, IT TELLS THEM TO AVOID THE RESULT OF SEXUAL ACTIVITY -- BABIES. If the family cap proposal becomes law and has the effect it is intended to have, then there will be fewer births to mothers on welfare. This is very different from other parts of welfare reform, which are designed to encourage people to get jobs and become independent. The family cap is not necessary to welfare reform; welfare can be reformed without it. Not all welfare reform proposals include this deadly and manipulative provision.

The problem is, there are three ways to avoid having a child. There's abstinence: no sex, no pregnancy, and no baby. There's contraception: fewer pregnancies (depending on how the method works: most "contraceptives" actually cause early abortions) and fewer babies. And there's abortion: no baby (or, more accurately, no live baby outside the womb running up expenses). If the government puts pressure on women not to have babies, which way will they choose? Some mothers will just ignore the government, and they will be poor. Some will abstain, some will contracept (or try to contracept and actually abort), AND SOME WILL ABORT.

If the family cap is in a welfare proposal, that's an attack on babies. It's a prolife issue.

Forced abortion

The family cap will kill children. But there's more: it's forced abortion. For several years, prolifers who have been watching forced abortion programs in China and elsewhere have predicted that it would come to America eventually. This is the beginning in America.

When a new savagery begins in a society, it begins very gradually, so that people have time to get used to it. To launch a coercive program in the land of the free, you have to disguise it. The disguise for the family cap is confusion about rewards and punishments, carrots and sticks, incentives and disincentives.

If the government pays for a service, Americans may complain about the cost but won't see payments as incompatible with the American way of life. But if the government punishes someone for what they have done, Americans want to understand very, very clearly what the problem is. We don't scrutinize carrots the way we scrutinize sticks. In general, we don't have a problem with rewards, but punishments have to follow the law very exactly.

In the debate over the family cap, the difference between a reward and a punishment is being blurred. Carrots and sticks have been mixed. This confusion is basic to the public relations effort to gain support for telling a woman what to do with her sex life.

The confusion the smoke and mirrors starts with persuading people that welfare is a reward for having kids. If people accept that idea, then the family cap isn't a stick; it's just taking away a carrot.

It is dishonest to call welfare an incentive for having babies. No one believes for a second that welfare was established to reward women for having kids, to encourage mothers to have larger families. It was set up to help people in trouble, to help children and families. It's part of a safety net.

Is a lifeline a reward for drowning?

Is a fire department a carrot, urging people to be careless with matches?

Is a rescue squad an incentive to take poison?


The family cap proposal requires confusion about incentives and disincentives, about carrots and sticks. The only way to hide the coercive nature of the family cap is to persuade people that welfare is a reward. Hey, if welfare is so great, would you like to try it? And if you don't want to try it, don't let anyone convince you it's a reward.

The truth is, welfare isn't a reward. So the family cap isn't a limit on a reward, it's a limit on a family, limiting family size by governmental decree. The family cap is a stick.

A mother on welfare who learns she is pregnant is not forced to have an abortion. The decision about what to do is still hers. But the family cap is a deliberate governmental policy that puts pressure on her not to have that kid.

The family cap is not welfare reform, it is welfare abuse.

Welfare has two great threats. It creates dependency, and it opens the door to manipulation.

Dependency is bad for the donors, who give and give, and then are asked to give again. It is bad for the recipients, who lose self respect.

Once dependency is established, there is a worse danger lurking: manipulation. The donor has the power to intrude inappropriately in the recipient's life, and impose decisions on the recipient. Very often, the donor may feel superior to the recipient, and may see some ways that the welfare mom could straighten out her life. But when the donor intrudes inappropriately in this situation of inequality, this can be bullying, or even an early form of slavery.

We have created a situation of dependence, and there is growing national determination to reverse that. But in the midst of the clamor for reform, there are also fierce calls to use the dependence to manipulate, to move from the first great evil to the second. Rather than back away from the evils created accidentally, some people would like to embrace them and use them.

The family cap is manipulative. If the family cap becomes law, then a woman who becomes dependent on the State is vulnerable to government pressure concerning her decisions about whether and when to bear children. The family cap is a deliberate governmental effort to change her behavior in the bedroom. This pressure to have fewer kids is not exerted on everyone; rather, she becomes vulnerable to this pressure when she becomes dependent on the State for food and shelter.

Before looking at whether the government is putting pressure on her to do something good or something profoundly evil, we should first understand clearly that the government if the family cap becomes law is putting pressure on her, and is able to do so because she is poor.

The family cap is not an effort to get her off welfare. It is an effort to make her do something while she is on welfare. The family cap is not an effort to end the great evil of dependence; it is an effort to move on to the second great evil of welfare, manipulation.

Success in most welfare reform is: people go to work and become independent. Success in the family cap is: fewer births to women on welfare. This is the goal of the eugenics movement, the master race madness that drove Hitler: "More from the fit, less from the unfit."

The family cap will kill children. And it's the beginning of forced abortion, the first step toward a program like China's savage population policy. Prolifers must oppose this grave evil.

John Cavanaugh-O'Keefe