Pro-Life Means Guaranteed Maternity Care for All

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Pro-Life Means Guaranteed Maternity Care for All

Mary Krane Derr

As a prolifer, I recognize another dimension of my belief is to guarantee maternity care for all; something that concerns pro-choicers, too, for different but often overlapping reasons.

The US media furor over the following Congressional exchange has died down. 
Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona): I don’t need maternity care.

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan): I think your mom probably did.

this argument and public reactions to it involve issues far too
important and enduring for just a flash of media attention, issues
essential to the search for common ground and the fostering of
universal human rights.  Pro-choicers have called Senator Jon Kyl to
task for this statement, pointing out its utter hypocrisy for someone
who carries the label of “pro-life.”  While we have not
gotten much attention for it, there are also (surprise!) many
pro-lifers– like yours truly–who discern and deplore the same
On October 7, a group of Arizona mothers stormed Kyl’s office,
him and other Republican politicians for their trivialization of
women’s need of maternity care and of women’s status in general. They
raised concerns that anyone serious about common ground must take
to heart, whatever their own abortion stance or party affiliation.
There is plenty of scientific evidence to back up the outrage against Kyl.  According to data gathered by UN agencies like UNFPA, the US ranks 29th globally in infant mortality and 41st
in maternal mortality, in large part because of racial and class
disparities in health care access, and because of US providers who have
economic incentives not to follow the best practices available. 
In its statement in support of healthcare reform, Childbirth Connection points out that 85% of US women give birth at some point in their
lives and 4.3 million do so in any given year. Twenty-three per cent
of hospital discharges are of childbearing women and newborns, who
account for a far larger proportion of total hospital charges than any
other group of patients.  As well as involving so much of
the population and the health services sector, maternity care offers
unique opportunities to improve the life courses and health outcomes of
mothers, fetuses, and newborns. 
Globally embraced documents of the universal human rights movement also support the outrage against Kyl.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights identifies “medical care and necessary social services” as human
rights, and “motherhood and childhood” as “entitled to special care and
  CEDAW, the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women asserts the responsibility of states to “ensure
to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement
and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary.” According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, states have a responsibility to implement every child’s right to ‘
special safeguards and care…before as well as after birth.” This includes the “diminish[ment]
of infant and child mortality” and the ensuring of “appropriate
pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers.”
a prolifer who affirms all of these universal human rights, I also
recognize another dimension to guarantee maternity care for all,
something that concerns pro-choicers, too, for different but often
overlapping reasons.  Along with being a right on its own, guaranteed maternity care is also, not one whit less
importantly, an indispensible way to alleviate situational pressures
upon women towards abortion, especially though not entirely upon the
poor; women who have disabilities or who carry disabled babies; women
of color; immigrants and refugees; and students. 
According to the Guttmacher Institute,
57% of US women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged. Lack
of access to free/affordable health care, including family
planning services and both maternity and pediatric care, is both a
cause and consequence of economic disadvantage.  This also helps to explain, for example, the fact that African American women have five times as many abortions as White women. 
Many women’s and children’s own life and death stories also validate the right of maternity care.  I
vividly remember how challenging it was for me in 1986-87 as an
impoverished student with disabilities to hold onto the insurance my
daughter and I so desperately needed throughout and beyond that medical
and emotional rollercoaster of an unplanned, high-risk pregnancy.  Two
decades later, when my college student daughter became pregnant
herself, she and her baby were also subjected to insanely uncertain
coverage.  My grandson is a year and a half now, but we are still fighting the plan’s refusal to pay for emergency asthma treatment in the eighth month of pregnancy.  And yet we were all the "lucky" ones.  This
inter-generational story is but one deep source of my conviction–as a
pro-lifer–that US society must stop already in its dismissal of
maternity care, a matter of life and death, as some lightweight thing
that one can access only via fluke.
regard maternity care as simply an option that “I don’t need” is to
wash one’s hands of collective responsibility for mothers and babies
and therefore to have complicity in those situational pressures towards
abortion.  This responsibility extends beyond those who are mothers or wish to become mothers, to every member of society.  Countries
that regard maternity care as everybody’s business and everybody’s
concern, such as the Netherlands, have abortion rates that are a small
fraction of the high US rate.
So why does John Kyl have a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee?  The rating criteria focus primarily on issues of abortion’s legal status and its funding.  Yet prolifers do not all necessarily think the same way about these issues.  Most
of all, measures to alleviate the root causes of abortion, such as
guaranteed universal maternity care, are conspicuously and absurdly
absent from NRLC’s rating criteria, as if they did not belong at the
very heart of what it means to be prolife.
In the name of pro-life, Jon Kyl does need to affirm American women’s universal human right to access maternity care.  As
Senator Debbie Stabenow and Kyl’s own maternal constituents tried to remind
him, every single one of us grew inside the body of a woman who needed
access to proper health care to keep both herself and her baby alive
and well.
only need to look at the faces of my daughter and grandbaby and my own
in the mirror to know that universal maternity care is a moral and
political imperative.  One that a heated but relatively small moment of media attention all by itself cannot make a reality, even if it points the way.