One Reason to Celebrate Health Care Reform If You Support Reproductive Rights

Amie Newman

Amid the anger, frustration, challenges and fights for women's health and rights in health care reform, there is a reason for women's health advocates to celebrate. Now we need to connect the obvious dots and advocate for the full spectrum of women's reproductive rights. 

Amid the anger, frustration, challenges and fights for women’s health and rights in health care reform, there is a reason to celebrate. Lucinda Marshall notes the feeling of living in The Handmaid’s Tale these days with the ways in which our government has thus far trampled upon, shredded and maintained tight control over women’s health and lives in health care reform. Marshall goes on to write, however, that it’s critical we keep our perspective broad and look through a wide windshield when it comes to what we term "reproductive health":

"…we need to not lose sight of the fact that
abortion is only one aspect of reproductive rights. There are many
other aspects to women’s health care in addition to abortion that need
to be assured."

Birthing rights, prenatal care, maternity care, safe childbirth and postpartum care are just some of the reproductive health issues that we seem to "lose sight" of at times. Here, then, is one provision in the Senate’s health reform bill that shines:

The Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act makes provisions for postpartum research, education and services and is included in both the House and Senate versions of health care reform bills. This is great news for women in this country, undeniably. 

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As Katherine Stone writes at the blog Postpartum Progress:

No matter how you feel about healthcare reform, it would be a blessing to women around the country if the MBSMA becomes law.

And the women of the Perinatal Pro Weekly Blog eloquently note,

The days of decreasing the stigma of maternal mental illness long borne
by silent suffering mothers and increasing the life saving awareness
and services so desperately needed seem imminent.

Postpartum depression, anxiety and psychosis are serious conditions but with funding (which has been nil on the federal front and spotty from state to state), there is much we can do in the areas of research, screening and treatment. For any woman who has experienced a postpartum mood disorder or who knows someone who has, it’s heart-wrenching to think that, as a society, we have contributed next to nothing, in terms of funding and resources, towards helping mothers in this country deal with these conditions. 

In addition to the MOTHERS Act, our reliable women’s health advocate in the Senate, Barbara Mikulski, introduced an amendment (which passed) to the health care reform bill that included provisions for postpartum depression screening.

Interestingly, the MOTHERS Act also includes a provision that addresses the "relative mental health consequences for women of resolving a pregnancy" through a proposed longitudinal study:

"The Director of the National Institute of Mental Health may conduct a nationally representative longitudinal study (during the period of fiscal years 2010-2019) of the relative mental health consequences for women resolving a pregnancy (intended and unintended) in various ways, includng carrying the pregnancy to term and parenting the child, carrying the pregnancy to term and placing the child for adoption, miscarriage, and having an abortion. This study may assess the incidence, timing, magnitude and duration of the immediate and long-term mental health consequences (positive and negative) of these pregnancy outcomes."

This kind of a study is fascinating in its ability to link the full spectrum of women’s reproductive health lives and shows the kind of care, concern and attentiveness to women’s reproductive health experiences that may help validate our experiences, no matter what they may be. 

Health care reform bills in both the House and Senate have been harsh for women’s access to reproductive health care in terms of abortion care. But there is good news with the MOTHER Act, the Mikulski Amendment and the mandated inclusion of maternity care in all health insurance plans that participate in the health exchange. The challenge women’s health advocates have before us, then, is to link these issues politically mirroring the ways in which they are connected authentically and so naturally in women’s lives.    

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