Republican politicians working to overturn Roe v. Wade say they are pro-life and antiabortion. In fact, they are neither. What they are is pro-forced birth.
It was a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks that has set the stage for the Supreme Court to roll back nearly 50 years of reproductive rights. If the court does overturn Roe, as a leaked draft decision suggests it soon will, another Mississippi law would automatically “trigger,” banning nearly all abortions.
Some residents who find themselves with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy might be able to leave the state to seek an abortion. But others without the means to travel or take time off from work will be forced to give birth. And in Mississippi, that is an unusually dangerous undertaking.
The United States has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world; Mississippi has one of the higher maternal death rates within the United States. The odds are worse for Black women, whose risk of death related to pregnancy and childbirth are nearly triple those for White women in the state.
When asked this weekend how this track record squares with his avowed pro-life bona fides, Gov. Tate Reeves (R) acknowledged the state’s “problems” and said he was committed to devoting more “resources” to make sure that expectant and new mothers get the “help that they need from a health-care standpoint.”
That would be welcome news if it were true. But it isn’t.
Mississippi’s legislature recently considered whether to extend Medicaid postpartum coverage from 60 days to a full year after birth, as federal law newly allows states to do. If you care about the lives of new moms (and, by extension, their kids), this is a no-brainer. Roughly 6 in 10 births in the state are covered by Medicaid; 86 percent of the state’s maternal deaths occur postpartum. Pregnancy and delivery raise the risk of many health complications, including infections, blood clots, high blood pressure, heart conditions and postpartum depression. Giving low-income moms access to health care a full year after birth would save lives.
But Mississippi’s Republican leadership rejected the proposal. Not because the state lacks the funds (which would be partly covered by the federal government); one thing state pols did manage to get through this session was the state’s largest-ever tax cut.
So what did Reeves mean when he said that the state had directed more “resources” to helping moms get care? He was referring to a new tax credit for private donations to “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are nonprofits largely devoted to persuading women not to get abortions. These centers, which are usually religiously affiliated, also have a long track record of spreading false or misleading medical information about abortions and contraception.
Meanwhile, Mississippi politicians appear to be contemplating measures to ban or reduce access to contraception, given Reeves’s evasive responses to questions over the weekend. So are other red states, including Louisiana, Missouri and Idaho, based on politicians’ comments, legislative language under consideration or trigger laws already on the books. In some cases the laws may ban emergency contraception and intrauterine devices.
Once again, these bans would increase the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies — and demand for abortions, albeit more often across state lines.
Speaking of trigger laws, Mississippi is hardly the only state poised to ban nearly all abortions while refusing to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage. Utah, which also has a trigger law in place, recently considered a postpartum coverage extension. The bill never even came up for a vote before the legislature adjourned.
At least six other states (Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming) have trigger laws in place and have not extended postpartum coverage nor introduced legislation to do so, according to Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
At the federal level, too, Republican politicians have been asked again and again to support programs that would reduce the likelihood of unplanned pregnancies and improve maternal and infant health. Again and again, they have refused.
Federal Republicans fought the law requiring health insurers to provide no-cost coverage of all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives. They likewise continue to block efforts to institute paid parental leave, universal pre-K and an expanded child tax credit that covers the poorest children.
Republicans have been given many opportunities to demonstrate their commitment to promoting the lives and well-being of the most vulnerable mothers, infants and children. They’ve made different choices.