The New Traditional Family

Mommy. Daddy. Susie and John: the age-old nuclear family with a white picket fence and a dog named Spike the radical right simply adores. To them, this is the basis of America, the so-called backbone of the nation – and what they are so determined to get back to. But it seems that with a few exceptions, the radical right is not as vocal about promoting traditional family values these days, as fighting terrorism is the new test of political manhood…or are they? It is common knowledge that the radical right, Bush’s administration included, have used the so-called war on terrorism to distract the public from the domestic setbacks they have begun to legislate, impose and fund.

Particularly on the funding level, by holding the traditional family as the ideal goal to reach, conservative welfare reform proponents have created their own Catch-22 for low-income women trapped in unhealthy marriages. Under welfare reforms’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), married women who stay with their husbands, regardless of the relationship and even abuse that may exist there, are rewarded in some financial way. In Oklahoma, for instance, these TANF recipients received free and subsidized housing while low-income mothers without husbands did not. So many low-income women are forced to decide between an abusive marriage that comes with a house or a single family home minus the home. Even more ironic are the child limitation laws, better known as Family Caps. That’s right! The same legislators constantly criticizing China have shown that their remarks are only projections of their own personal beliefs. In particular, women receiving TANF funds are limited to a certain number of children. After that amount, no more TANF funds will be administered, and the woman will be forced to use the same amount of money she used for her previous family size with her newly increased family.

Think this sounds fair? Wait for the catch! Federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, many of which TANF recipients are dependent on, will barely cover pregnancy prevention in the form of contraception or termination of pregnancy through abortion. The little contraception that they do cover is usually long term or permanent contraception such as Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) or other more intrusive practices such as sterilization. To many women, this financially supported pregnancy prevention is nothing more than coerced and forced sterilization – a modern day eugenics. Thus, a woman who may have been forced in to sex by an abusive husband, who has given birth to her TANF limit of children (i.e. reached her family cap), but who becomes pregnant again is forced to have another child for which she will not be subsidized…that is, unless she wants to be permanently sterilized.

And if this still seems fair, consider funding for Title X, the federal funding stream that supports reproductive health care and family planning. Given the circumstances, many women receiving TANF benefits depend on clinics funded by Title X. But with the Bush administration and radically conservative legislators making so many cuts to this particular funding stream, Title X clinics are shutting down and/or have waiting lists that erase access for many of the women who need it most. Even more than cutting Title X funding, the Bush administration has vowed to place equal or more federal money in funding streams that oppose a woman’s right to determine when and how she wants to have a family.

For example, Title V of welfare reform designates spending for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that limit information about safe, healthy and responsible relationships and sexual behavior and replace it with dogmatic abstinence pledges, submissive gender roles for young girls and even the introduction of religion and faith-based reasons why marriage is most desirable.

Clearly, the Bush administration and the radical right wing have a long term strategic plan to rebuild the presence of the traditional family at any cost. By supporting the Defense of Marriage Act and even suggesting a constitutional amendment that would preserve the sanctity of heterosexual marriage, limiting in vitro fertilization to married couples, and by increasing federal tax breaks to married couples the Bush administration sends a clear message that the traditional family is back and should be held on a high pedestal. After all, why are we so opposed to the new traditional family? Even if Mommy has a black eye, Susie is hungry and there is no milk money for baby John who is on the way, at least they have a roof over their heads, right?

--Erica Smiley is national field director for Choice USA.