Critics of pro-life politicians in Mississippi say the legislators and state officials who oppose abortion are a whole lot more interested in what happens before a child is born than after it.
House Speaker Philip Gunn and his lieutenants certainly give credence to that allegation.
This past week the House showed its heartless side when it killed a Senate proposal to let mothers keep their Medicaid coverage a year after their child’s birth. As a result, in the next few months, after the federal government declares an end to the public health emergency posed by COVID-19, Mississippi will resort to providing the medical coverage for the absolute minimum allowed — two months after birth.
This decision is particularly harsh in Mississippi, where about 60% of pregnant women are on Medicaid because they have no other realistic insurance option. They make too little to afford private insurance and, for a share of them, too much to qualify for Medicaid except when they are pregnant.
The research shows that two months’ of post-partum care for mothers is really not enough. That’s especially true in a state where a prevalence of other health conditions, such as heart problems and high blood pressure, make pregnancy and childbirth more dangerous than normal. According to a report done a couple of years ago by the state Department of Health, Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is almost double the national average, and more than a third of these deaths occur six weeks or more after childbirth.
When Gunn was asked why he and his Medicaid Committee chairman, Rep. Joey Hood, decided to not let the House vote on the proposed extension, Gunn said it was because he remains opposed to any type of Medicaid expansion.
Gunn has been one of the main obstacles to a much broader expansion of Medicaid, which would provide coverage to the state’s working poor. Despite the sweet terms that the federal government has offered — paying 90% of the cost, and even more than that for the next couple of years — Gunn and other Republican leaders, most prominently Gov. Tate Reeves, have refused to consider expansion because it was an idea initiated and pushed by Democrats. No matter how much Mississippi’s uninsured workers would benefit, no matter how much financially struggling rural hospitals would be helped, no matter how large a boost an extra billion dollars a year from Washington would provide to the state’s economy, Gunn and others of the same mindset have refused to listen.
They don’t seem to get, however, that not only is their stubbornness hurting Mississippi, it is undermining their efforts to persuade pregnant women to not terminate a pregnancy.
Mississippi is waiting now on the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether a law that could ultimately lead to the banning of abortion in this state is constitutional. It’s widely speculated that the conservative majority on the court will either nullify Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand, or significantly scale it back.
If that should happen, Mississippi would almost certainly push to shut down the only remaining abortion clinic in the state.
If you are truly pro-life, however, it is not enough to make abortions more difficult to obtain. You have to make childbirth a less frightening option for those who become pregnant unintentionally. That means providing the financial, emotional and medical support that would encourage a woman to carry the child to term and, if not in a position to raise the child herself, allow the child to be adopted.
If a pregnant woman of limited means knows that she will have decent medical coverage not only during her pregnancy but up to a year afterward, that removes one of the concerns that might lead to an abortion.
Even several other Republican-dominated states that, like Mississippi, have rejected the large-scale expansion of Medicaid see the benefit of providing longer coverage for pregnant women. Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have all passed legislation to provide post-partum care for at least six months. Alabama is moving in that direction, too.
The Mississippi Senate would have had this state join them. It passed the proposal with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 46-5.
The difference is that the Senate is led by a more sensible Republican. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann does not close his mind to every idea that comes from the other side of the political aisle. He does the math when it comes to evaluating offers of aid from Washington. And he puts human compassion over political ambition.
It’s regrettable that Gunn does not possess those same characteristics.
nContact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.