Editorial & Opinion

Oped: Honor Mamas with Change, not Chocolate

“I am so sick of the endless pontificating about protecting women when too many times we ignore what mothers really need to take care of themselves and our families,” writes Jocelyn Foye of The Womxn Project. “I am devastated when I hear lawmakers deny racism exists while Black mothers are crying over children lost to state violence and families are mourning loved ones lost to pregnancy complications and a medical system that does not hear their voices or see their needs. I am furious that the same people who talk about loving babies do nothing to address how many children don’t have enough to eat or that their families don’t have clean drinking water.”
Photo for Oped: Honor Mamas with Change, not Chocolate

Published on May 7, 2021
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I treasure the handmade presents I get each year from my girls on Mother’s Day, but the fact is that in the middle of a pandemic, what moms need most are policies that support our health and wellbeing and make sure we can all thrive.  Congress is taking steps with substantive conversations about childcare and funding for states to extend Medicaid coverage postpartum up to one year to improve maternal health.  But there is so much more that lawmakers can – and should – do if they want to honor mamas.

As the public health and financial crisis continues, many people are having a difficult time getting the services they need. Whether it is because health care is harder to get or people have lost a job or their insurance, the fact is that for many people care has been pushed out of reach. Too many of our neighbors, especially Black and Latinx people, young people, and low-income folks, struggle with access to abortion care. Everyone deserves compassion and access to care, no matter who they are, how much money they have or the type of insurance they use. 

In Rhode Island, we worked hard to protect the right to abortion. Mothers from across the state came out to share their stories of how an abortion they had when they were younger helped to them to create the financial stability and plan for the families they have now. We had mothers talk about the fact that 60% of people who have an abortion are already parents. They know what it is to carry a pregnancy and raise a child. They are doing their best to care for their loved ones and they know best if they can add another child. The single most common reason women cite for wanting an abortion is because they cannot afford to raise a child.

We also had so many parents speak strongly about the need to make sure that their children – their daughters – are not denied the ability to control their bodies and their futures, so we enacted a law to ensure that in our state we protect the right of every person to make their own decision about abortion. But the fact is that right is pushed out of reach for many people due to the fact that we continue to withhold health coverage for abortion for state employees and people who use Medicaid.   

Access to comprehensive reproductive health care – including affordable abortion is critical to promoting better maternal and infant health outcomes. Delays, costs, and complications that result from barriers to abortion are contributing to poor maternal health outcomes and studies have shown time and again that when people seek an abortion but are denied one, they are more likely to spend years living in poverty. 

Pushing back on policies that ban abortion – whether it is insulting reason bans like the one being considered right now in North Carolina or the long-standing denial of insurance benefits on the books in our state and so many others – they cause harm. They take away access to affordable healthcare and deny the bodily autonomy of people because they are pregnant. They are cruel and frankly, bad health policy.  

Opposing abortion bans and advancing bills like the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act (H5787/S267) are concrete actions we can take to improve maternal outcomes and make sure that our state health policies put the needs of people before politics. We need our medical systems to work for patients – not insurance companies and to center the needs of communities. 

Extensive, reliable research shows that making sure that people can have continue support during pregnancy and labor improves childbirth outcomes, increases care quality, and has numerous benefits from better pain management to a lower caesarean section rate. Many states, including Rhode Island, are advancing bills to make doula services eligible for reimbursement through private insurance and Medicaid programs (H5929/S484). With Black women in the United States facing a higher rate of pregnancy complications and maternal mortality, we owe it to the families who have lost loved ones to maternal mortality to do all we can. This bill is an important start.  

I am so sick of the endless pontificating about protecting women when too many times we ignore what mothers really need to take care of themselves and our families.  I am devastated when I hear lawmakers deny racism exists while Black mothers are crying over children lost to state violence and families are mourning loved ones lost to pregnancy complications and a medical system that does not hear their voices or see their needs. I am furious that the same people who talk about loving babies do nothing to address how many children don’t have enough to eat or that their families don’t have clean drinking water.  

We need to get real about what it looks like to honor mothers. My kiddos can give me the construction paper flowers, but this Mother’s Day I am demanding that our lawmakers make a commitment to truly stand with families, to advance policies that make a positive difference and to make sure that we can all live with health and dignity.

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