Why does Mitt Romney want to send checks to parents each month? To encourage them to have more kids.

The Utah Republican also argues payments starting when a woman is pregnant will help curb abortions.

Pitching his plan to replace current public assistance programs with a sweeping scheme of monthly federal per-child payments to families, Sen. Mitt Romney said Thursday the main motive is to “encourage family formation and childbearing.”

The Utah Republican worries that the declining U.S. birthrate is endangering the nation’s long-term ability to prosper and maintain its place as a world leader — and he warned of an ascendant but authoritarian China.

He pointed to estimates that, had the U.S. maintained its 2008 birthrate during the ensuing 12 years, 5.8 million more American babies would have been born.

“So the declining birthrate has cost us some 5.8 million young people who, 18 years from now or 20 years from now, would be contributing to our economy. So it’s a real concern,” he said in an online interview with the conservative think tank American Compass.

“I want to encourage people to have children and I want to support people who do have children and to make sure the child is given the kind of care and treatment that we, as a society, want to have.”

His plan, revealed last month during debate over what turned out to be a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, would pay monthly stipends of $350 for children through age 5 and $250 for those 6 to 17.

Romney’s plan isn’t tied to any work requirements, although he said the existing earned income tax credit would provide some incentive for parents to hold jobs.

Still, his proposal has been attacked as a radical redistribution of wealth that could discourage work.

“We do not support turning the child tax credit into what has been called a ‘child allowance,’ paid out as a universal basic income to all parents,” Utah Sen. Mike Lee and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a joint statement about the time Romney released his plan. “That is not tax relief for working parents; it is welfare assistance.”

Rubio and Lee released their own proposal to boost the child tax credit, but in a comparison Romney shared Thursday, it provides little to no support for those at the bottom of the income scale. Romney’s plan is relatively flat over income levels while President Joe Biden’s program is weighted toward the low income.

Romney acknowledged that “so far” Democrats in the Senate have showed more interest in his plan than his fellow Republicans.

That said, he argued that his is a sound conservative policy. It wouldn’t require a tax increase but would replace most existing assistance programs, he said. And similar policies in other countries have shown that even when government stipends don’t depend on employment status, recipients generally do hold jobs.

An added benefit, he said, would be to reduce abortions. So, Romney, said it deserves a conservative “pro-life” label.

“We’re making payments to young women that are pregnant within four months of their due date,” Romney said.

“Among those that have abortions, some 70% said the reason, or one of the key reasons they had an abortion, was that they were concerned about their financial capability in caring for the child. So providing a monthly stipend to someone who is pregnant is very much a pro-life consideration.”

Romney also repeated what by now are his familiar warnings about China, which he said is “intent on dominating the world” — and not as a benign power but one that is waging genocide on the Uyghur Muslims and crushing democracy in Hong Kong.

To maintain a strong counterbalance, he said, it’s essential that the United States implement domestic policies that will maintain a vibrant and growing economy to support its superpower military, quality education system and role as a leader in technology and innovation.

Shoring up families, Romney said, is an important part of that.