Guest columnist Keith Peterson: Americans facing test of support for 'family values'

  • Keith Peterson

    Keith Peterson

By Keith Peterson
Guest columnist
Updated 6/30/2022 1:35 PM

I am with my Swedish cousins for the "Midsommar" holiday at their cottage on the southwest coast of Sweden. Yesterday, the decision by America's highest court to overturn Roe and Casey reverberated here as well.

Sweden is certainly more liberal and more secular than America. Only 5% of Swedes attend church regularly, though half of Swedes still technically belong to the Church of Sweden. However, the Lutheran church ceased to be the "state church" in 2000.


A 1975 law gives a woman an absolute right to an abortion in the first 18 weeks -- more than the Mississippi law's 15-week standard but less than viability standard -- roughly 23 weeks -- that existed before the court's decision. The cost of an abortion is covered by Sweden's universal health care system. It costs the same as a regular visit to the doctor -- about $25-$35.

However, my cousin's son Anders and his wife Claudia are here with their one-month-old daughter and here the contrast with America is greater. Anders is an in-house lawyer for an American company. Claudia does procurement for a large construction company. Now, however, Claudia will have the next year to take care of her baby at 80 percent of her salary, capped at around $50,000 a year. She can take up to 16 months and Anders can use part of that leave as well.

Then their daughter can start in day care. Daycare costs are capped at 3 percent of the parents' salary.

These social benefits are well known as well as the higher taxes required to support this system, but think about this the next time an American politician starts talking about "family values." Too often what they mean has nothing to do with support for families.

We have just seen the child tax credit that reduced child poverty in America significantly during the pandemic fail to receive sufficient votes in the Congress to be renewed and, truth be told, the credit did not reach the most vulnerable because of the way our tax system is structured.

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We surely don't understand the full impact of the court's decision. Some women seeking an abortion will find a way to travel to another state to end an unwanted pregnancy or the use of the so-called morning-after pill will expand. However, it seems likely that some women will carry children to term that they otherwise would have aborted. Will we offer them any help in caring for that child -- or are "family values" just a slogan?

Anders and Claudia are obviously well off and there is a full complement of loving grandparents at hand, but the Swedish system treats people equally whether it is this ideal situation or a single mother struggling to make ends meet. Sweden is, of course, a wealthy country, but it is not as wealthy as the United States. The U.S. could afford to do more to support families.

If you have read this far, perhaps you have already groused "socialism" and assumed the decisions made by Swedes on how to spend their tax dollars have nothing to do with America. The Swedish system is not perfect. There are waiting lines for health care and for places in day care. But the intent of the system reveals certain values and those values are shared across the political spectrum here. When the more conservative parties held power in Sweden they did not try to dismantle the social support structure.

The political debate about what happens after the court's decision will be intense, but it should also include a discussion about how we will support the children we bring into this turbulent world.

• Keith Peterson, of Lake Barrington, served 29 years as a press and cultural officer for the United States Information Agency and Department of State. He was chief editorial writer of the Daily Herald 1984-86.

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