When Phyllis Schlafly Agreed With The Far Left

Terry Brennan Co-Founder, Leading Women for Shared Parenting
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Since her passing, we’ve seen the typical media response in summarizing the life and accomplishments of Phyllis Schlafly.  Those who loved her politics praised her achievements, those who loathed her politics denigrated her beliefs or tried to re-write history, as if her work was irrelevant.  Sadly, this isn’t surprising, given the polarized nature of US politics.  But nowhere have we seen the indisputable fact that at times, Phyllis Schlafly and the far left agreed.  As controversy sells more newspapers, that too is unsurprising, but if we’re interested in having the best public policy, perhaps opposite ends of the political spectrum agreeing is an event deserving of more attention.  

As opponents, Phyllis Schlafly and N.O.W. President, Karen DeCrow, took center stage during one of the greatest rights movements in American history; the debate over the Equal Rights Amendment.  While sharing a number of personal traits, they had opposing views on almost everything relating to gender roles and gender politics in America, with Phyllis staking out the position on the political right, and Karen doing likewise on the political left. They took their views to the people, debating over 50 times in cities and towns across the country and engaging millions along the way.  Sometimes the debate was heated, as these two strong women, and the millions they inspired, viewed almost every issues through a polar opposite lens.

Yet 40 years later, both Phyllis and Karen joined forces to advocate for the same cause: Shared Parenting.  In 2013, each enthusiastically accepted the invitation to join Leading Women for Shared Parenting, an organization supporting a rebuttable presumption of shared parenting as a bedrock principal in family law.  In conversation, Phyllis and Karen were quick to impress that while their support for shared parenting sprang from different wells, the social benefits of its adoption would be substantial.  For both Phyllis and Karen knew, as Family courts openly discriminate against fathers, and put them in a lower-priority position, the result of children being given an average of only 5 days a month with their Father would establish the conditions where a significant number of these children would lose their dad altogether.  They were right. 

Family Courts now create a Fatherless child every 60 seconds, and have substantially contributed to what many believe is the top social issue in America today: Fatherlessness.  As lawyers financially benefit, and Bar Associations hire “emergency lobbyists” to oppose shared parenting legislation, the rest of country is left to foot the bill for their actions, with local newspapers, those in the trenches of Americas problems, now crying out to address the fatherless epidemic as it’s linked to virtually every social pathology in children.  When Phyllis and Karen agreed, perhaps politicians should have listened.  

Likewise, it would be difficult to challenge the placement of the Center for American Progress or the The New York Times as significantly on the left on the political spectrum.  Thus it’s noteworthy that both these organizations, like Phyllis, wrote articles calling for significant reform of the US child support system.  Oh, I’m aware, the Pavlovian right will scream “personal responsibility” and the Pavlovian left will never meet a “single mother” it doesn’t love, but it’s almost impossible for anyone to admit our current child support policies are even working, much less the best we can have.   For some time we’ve known that 70% of child support arrears are owed by those making less than $10,000 per year yet myth still persists of the “deadbeat dad” who lives comfortably while his children suffer. We then incarcerate these poor Fathers and categorize them as having “voluntary unemployment” ensuring further debts, interest and penalties continue to accumulate.  Once released, their prison record makes it extremely difficult to obtain employment capable of paying down the debt, followed by “get tough” politicians taking away their driving abilities to even get to a job.   

How many men does this impact?  When Walter Scott was shot in the back five times, we learned a shocking one-eighth of South Carolina’s inmate population was there for non-payment of child support.   Yet the National Child Support Program claims it “Serves more fathers than any other public program.”  Indeed, and American slaughter houses “serve” more cattle than anyone else as well. 

Further, as Phyllis well knew, the Federal Title IV-D program pays states based upon the amount of child support they collect.  With such a financial incentive, many states tie the amount of child support awarded to the amount of time the child spends with each parent.  This creates a financial incentive for the “custodial parent” to minimize the children’s time with the “non-custodial parent”.  While anything but serving children, this incentive increases the amount of conflict in Family Courts and the corresponding “billable hours” for the legal establishment.

As none of the above is good for children, families or society, it’s not surprising that these issues transcend politics, enabling both the left and right to call for significant change.      

To both Phyllis Schlafly and Karen DeCrow, no matter that your politics were as different as possible, I’ll miss you both.  Thank you for being such smart, strong and capable women and for standing up for your beliefs.  Most of all, thank you for standing up for children.  Without question, society would have been better off if, when you agreed, we’d listened to you in the past.  With momentum for shared parenting starting to build, perhaps we’ll begin to listen to you in the future. 

Terry Brennan is co-founder of  Leading Women for Shared Parenting.