The pro-life movement in post-Dobbs America requires robust support for health care and social service programs to accompany parents who choose life, some clergy, legislators and advocates told OSV News -- including efforts to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum mothers.
The most recent front in the struggle to deliver such assistance is Mississippi, home to the city of Jackson referenced in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned Roe v. Wade. After a two-year clash of political wills, Mississippi's House March 7 finally passed 88-29 a Medicaid postpartum coverage extension already approved by the state Senate, after the governor said this legislation was part of the "new pro-life agenda."
Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that gives health coverage to some individuals, families, and children with limited income and resources. It's also the largest single payer of pregnancy-related services, funding 42% of all U.S. births in 2019. According to a 2022 Kaiser Family Foundation study, the average U.S. birth costs $18,865; for those insured, the average out-of-pocket expense is $2,655.
In Mississippi, low-income mothers will now be eligible for a full year of postpartum coverage instead of just 60 days. With the signature of Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, who as lieutenant governor helped craft the Dobbs brief, the bill becomes law.
"I am grateful for the prayer, hard work and collaboration that brought this bill to the finish line," Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz of Jackson told OSV News. "One big step forward for the common good."
"Since the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, it is very important that we provide support to moms and parents who are keeping their babies rather than aborting them," Debbie Tubertini, coordinator in the Diocese of Jackson's Office of Family Ministry, told OSV News.
Jennifer Williams, diocesan director of Catholic Charities of South Mississippi, also shared with OSV News that "expanded Medicaid for postpartum benefits will allow our clients and others across the state the opportunity to receive much-needed medical care and mental health care."
Both Bishop Kopacz and Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III of Biloxi, Mississippi, issued a Feb. 24 letter urging lawmakers "to protect the life and health of mothers in this state."
Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), indicates Mississippi has the country's highest infant mortality rate, and its population includes a sizable number of women with chronic medical conditions.
While federal law requires all states to provide Medicaid coverage without cost sharing for pregnancy-related services to pregnant women with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level, individuals with pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage typically lose benefits two months after the end of pregnancy.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan Act allowed states to extend Medicaid pregnancy coverage from 60 days to one year postpartum -- however, the law's provision expires in May.
Not all states have taken legislative action -- some have done so in varying degrees -- owing to political disagreement about the role of government when it comes to assisting mothers in need. Some advocate the government should provide a wider and stronger social safety net, while others oppose efforts to enlarge government programs and spending.
"It's a philosophical difference about the role of government. I understand that," said former Congressman Dan Lipinski, a Catholic pro-life Democrat who represented his Illinois district in the U.S. House from 2005-2021. "But I believe that (extending postpartum coverage) is the right thing to do. I don't think that it is the government stepping in too much to help women who are really in need."
Two pro-life groups, Democrats for Life of America and Americans United for Life, outlined a proposal declaring that "to change the future, we need a new model, a better paradigm. Birth in the United States of America should be free."
Lipinski said the pro-life movement is at a critical moment "to demonstrate -- now that Roe is gone -- what we really stand for, and what we really want to do."
"We need to win more hearts and minds -- and I think one way to do that is to show our concern for women is there, and has always been there," he said.
Lipinksi's call to comprehensive pro-life action has been echoed on the other side of the political aisle.
"As we take steps to protect the unborn, we also have an obligation to support pregnant and new moms, as well as their young children," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told OSV News. "My Providing for Life Act provides a national blueprint to do exactly that, and I am encouraged to see states across the nation stepping up to do the same."
Rubio's plan would enable paid parental leave; expand the Child Tax Credit, Child Support Enforcement requirements, tax relief for adoptive parents and access to social services; provide additional funding, with reforms, to the Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, program, and more.
Wyoming state Rep. Cody Wylie, R-Sweetwater, grabbed headlines when he declared in support of a bill to expand temporarily postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 12 months through 2024, "If we're going to hold the line and protect life by outlawing abortion, we also need to be damn sure we're prepared and willing to roll up our sleeves and fund programs for mothers and children."
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed the bill into law March 3 calling it a “signature piece of pro-life legislation" that is expected to help as many as 2,000 low-income Wyoming mothers.
Patrick Brown, a Catholic and fellow in the Life and Family Initiative at the Ethics & Public Policy Center in Washington, told OSV News that both Lipinski and Rubio are "champions in trying to think through what an authentically pro-life policy agenda should be."
"We should be prudently -- but also meaningfully -- investing in families, because they're doing the important work of carrying on society for the next generation," Brown explained. "That's my overarching argument for why these kinds of policies are important."
Nonetheless, "big changes like this don't happen overnight," he said. "It took 49 years to overturn Roe v. Wade -- and we're not even in the first year of what a post-Dobbs reality looks like."