(Originally published in Newsweek)

Glenn Youngkin’s 2021 upset win in the Virginia governor’s race introduced a new voting bloc: parents. Since then, threats to parental rights have only increased, with blue states like California declaring themselves “sanctuary states” for children whose parents refuse them transgender “treatments.” The GOP should fully embrace its new role as an ally for parents.

But there is another group in desperate need of a champion: children.

As the pandemic made painfully clear, children are lowest on the totem pole when powerful adult groups (read: teachers unions) are calling the shots. This adult-first mentality dominates nearly every area of American society: sex, gender, family, education, entertainment, and more. As a result, adults are failing kids—violating their innocence, harming their bodies, and denying their primary relationships. And it’s only possible because children cannot advocate for, or defend, themselves.

The Republican Party should become the party of child protection, specifically protecting children’s lives, families, bodies, and minds. The GOP must elevate the rights and interests of children. And they should do so by enshrining four children-first principles in their 2024 platform.

Principle number one is life. The GOP must protect children’s right to life. As a party, it should continue to protect the unborn. Children should not lose their life to the baby-taking abortion industry nor to the baby-making fertility industry. All forms of abortion—surgical and chemical—violate children’s right to life and must be opposed. Pre-born children are not commodities to be purchaseddesigned, or discarded via reproductive technologies.

Adults can make their own reproductive decisions, but no child’s right to life should be violated in the process.

Principle number two is family. The GOP should protect children’s right to be raised by their mother and father. Defending a child’s right to both biological parents reinforces parental rights. A child’s mother and father provide biological identity, the gender complementarity that maximizes child development, and (statistically) the safest home environment. Thus, the GOP understands one-man-and-one-woman marriage is a matter of justice for children because that relationship alone unites the two people to whom children have a natural right.

Adoption exists to serve children, not adults. Whenever possible, adopted children should be placed with married moms and dads so they can benefit from both maternal and paternal love. Adoption is centered around the well-being of children who have tragically lost their biological parents. In contrast, reproductive technologies are a marketplace centered around the desires of adults who often intentionally sever children’s bonds with one or both biological parents. No child’s right to their mother or father should be violated in the name of medical care.

Government should not prevent adults from forming consensual relationships, but it should only promote households that protect children’s right to both biological parents.

Principle number three is protecting bodies. No child is born in the wrong body. As a party, the GOP should not allow ideologically driven adults to inflict irreversible damage on children’s bodies. Children deserve to reach adulthood with bodies that have not been chemically and surgically altered to fit adult-driven narratives. Puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and transgender surgeries don’t turn boys into girls or vice versa; they turn healthy children into life-long customers of pharmaceutical companies and cosmetic surgeons. Such “treatments” should be banned for minors.

Gender-confused children deserve access to therapy which encourages them to accept the goodness of their bodies. Children’s bodies deserve privacy and protection in sex-specific locker-rooms and bathrooms. Children have a right to sex-specific fair play in the pool, on the field, on the court, and at the track.

Adults can self-identify as they please, but transgender “treatments” and policies should not infringe on children’s bodies, privacy and fair play.

Principle number four is protecting minds. Children are not miniature adults. Their minds are harmed when exposed to graphic or sexual content. Government should not fund or endorse schools or curricula that seek to indoctrinate children or expose them to sexual content. If a school violates a child’s innocence, parents should be able to choose another school. Money must fund students, not systems.

Children have a right to innocence. It is the job of parents, not the state nor schools nor activists, to introduce and educate children on topics related to sex and gender.

As Democrats advance laws that refuse to rescue children who survive an abortion, promote “modern” family structures that exclude mothers or fathers, and introduce unscientific and disturbing sex-ed materials, Republicans have a chance to flip the script and defend children, rather than victimize them.

Not only is a children-first platform critical in a culture where kids are struggling, it’s also a unifying, energizing message. It’s culture issues, not taxes, that get people off the couch and into the school board meetings. A children-first framework offers a template with which voters can evaluate all culture war issues: does a policy insist kids sacrifice their fundamental rights for an adult or an agenda? If it does, reject it.

A children-first approach accurately frames controversial topics like abortion, marriage, education, and gender ideology as not being anti-adult, but pro-kid. The GOP can offer a universal solution: all adults sacrifice something so all children are protected. It is a platform of justice, because a just society does not force the weak (children) to sacrifice for the strong (adults).

Most Americans believe adults should be able to live as they please, form relationships as they see fit, and make decisions for their own lives. A children-first platform allows for adult freedom while creating a firewall of protection around children should that freedom infringe on a child’s well-being. And that’s the balance not only needed in the GOP, but in our entire nation.