CARE FOR HER: An Interview with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry

“Written by the early feminist author Mattie Brinkerhoff in 1869, the following words have always haunted me: ‘When a man steals to satisfy hunger, we may safely conclude that there is something wrong in society—so when a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is an evidence that either by education or circumstances she has been greatly wronged,’” writes Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in the February 1 edition of his weekly “Fort Report.”

“Brinkerhoff goes on to ask: ‘But the question now seems to be, how shall we prevent this destruction of life and health?’ Soon, I will be introducing legislation entitled Care for Her. It lets a woman know that we, as a community of care, will be there through the miraculous journey of giving life. The bill would build on existing communities of support to ensure that a pregnant woman knows what is available to her, and fill in gaps with education, job training, and childcare through local and state capacities.

“In the almost 50 years since Roe v. Wade, women in America have chosen to have over 62 million abortions. Abortion remains as high as 50% of pregnancies in some communities. I believe that women deserve better.”

Rep. Fortenberry was generous enough to sit down with The American Feminist for an exclusive interview:

When you first ran for Congress, what informed your opinion on abortion?

To be frank, I was so compelled by the message of Feminists for Life that I borrowed a lot of their thinking and language. Thank you, Feminists for Life!

What has inspired your bill, Care for Her?

A cornerstone principle of civilization is the protection of human dignity. None of the other values we hold dear makes any sense unless we fix our gaze on that ultimate value. We need to ask ourselves: Are we big enough and generous enough to assure that a woman and her unborn child are supported? A new paradigm would invite us to see the fear of an unexpected pregnancy as a chance for the entire community to embrace the woman and child on the journey of life—when her fear becomes our fear, her obligation as our obligation, her pregnancy as our chance. I call this initiative Care for Her. It lets a woman know that we, as a community of care, will be there for her health, economic well-being, and social support.

In a recent Fort Report, I shared my idea of Care for Her. I received many letters in response. Among them, one
woman wrote: “I had an abortion when I was young, and maybe if I had this around me, I would have made a different decision.” That’s why I am doing this.

How much has being a husband and father of five daughters influenced your work to end abortion—and your proposed solutions?

I don’t have a good answer. Celeste and I lost two other children to miscarriage. On a scientific level, everything present for life is present at conception. Nothing is added later. On a human level, we love our children.

Do you expect support across the political and ideological divide for your bill?

I hope so. Clearly, there is common interest in validating a woman’s desire to carry her baby, give life, and raise a healthy child. I hope this transcends partisan divides.

What do you want Feminists for Life supporters to do to activate more members of Congress to support your bill?

Call your representatives. Write to them. Invite them to be a part of a community of care that wraps a woman with support through her journey of giving life. By pursuing these policy proposals, maybe we can shift our national cultural understanding from a binary choice between radical autonomy and relational capacity. Motherhood can be seen as a gift of self for the good of all society.

“Care for Her is FFL’s priority legislation to support,” said FFL President Serrin M. Foster. “We urge all members of Congress, no matter their party or stance on abortion, to co-sponsor and vote for this bill, and we ask all Feminists for Life to contact their representatives now. Call the United States Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, or find her or him online at to send an email.”

Congressman Fortenberry (NE-01) is the Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He can be reached through his website, Follow @JeffFortenberry on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Feminists for Life is nonpartisan and nonsectarian and works with people of all parties—and no party—who share in our mission of resources
and support.