Pro-Life Means Guaranteed Maternity Care for All

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.

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  • notyourbitch

    Good point, Mary. Let’s take it even further. We cannot ignore the assault on the right to birth where, how and with whom we want. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology is trying to outlaw homebirths, which are safer than US hospital births today. Most insurance companies do not willingly cover costs of a homebirth. Hospitals dictate the use of electronic fetal monitoring, restricting women’s movement during labor, and push Pitocin and Caesarian sections. In fact, normal, low risk births are routinely interfered with by stressful hospital policy requirements and unnecessary medical interventions. Hospitals tell women what they are ‘allowed’ to do during labor. Prisons still routinely shackle female inmates during labor, when there is obviously no likelihood of escape. We need a single payer (Medicare for All) system like the one outlined in HR 676 — taxpayer funded, privately delivered — that provides full reproductive care including birth control and abortion services, and pre- and post- natal and birthing services of choice. The woman’s choice.

    I think we can find common ground in this if our anti-choice sisters could see their way clear to trusting other women to be wise about our own needs and building a better world together where women can’t be dictated to and having children is not the liability it is today for so many women in this brutal, patriarchal culture.

  • marysia

    i agree, that birthing choices, including those of imprisoned women deserve the utmost accomodation & respect. i also would prefer a single payer system, though unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon.

    i think though the term “antichoice” is not fair, just as “antilife” is unfair. many feminist-minded women who identify as prolife on abortion aren’t against abortion because we categorically oppose women’s right to make choices about anything.

    we support women’s right to make every other choice after all, & see that as indispensible to lowering the abortion rate as well as right in its own right. we really do abortion as a taking of life, one very much bound up with the brutal patriarchal culture that undermines our abilities to prevent undesired pregnancies, & to go to term with & choose among, parenting, adoption, guardianship or another form of care.

    On Common Ground Columnist & Editor, Nonviolent Choice Directory

  • paul-bradford



    Once again, you’ve written an engaging and persuasive article.  Thank you so much!  Please allow me to comment on some of the points you brought up.


    So why does John Kyl have a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee?


    Pro-Lifers need another voice besides the NRLC.  I’ve posted this on other threads, but I consider it both inhumane and ineffective to adopt the single strategy of limiting access to the abortion procedures.  Pro-Lifers who are aligned with NRLC’s conservative policies are the ones attempting to make abortion unaffordable, inconvenient, illegal and unsafe.  This is not the way to protect the unborn.


    I have proposed the following strategies for addressing the health and safety risks faced by the very young:


    * Quality OB/GYN care available to all women regardless of income.  Uninsured women get abortions at a much higher rate than insured women.  Making women’s health care hard to access puts the unborn at risk.  Men, don’t forget: you were once fetuses too!


    * Comprehensive birth control for all.  The biggest cause for abortion is unwanted pregnancy and the biggest cause for unwanted pregnancy is inadequate birth control.  If you care about your unborn children you won’t conceive (or father) them until you’re ready to be a good parent.


    * Improved social supports.  Caring for the next generation is everyone’s responsibility — not just the children’s mothers.  Mothers need to feel the financial and social support of the rest of us.  Their children’s well-being is our concern.


    * Guaranteed paternal support.  Let’s put an end to the days of the deadbeat father.  We have the ability, now, to determine paternity in situations where there’s a question.  Once paternity is determined the father must provide child support.  Can’t draw blood from a stone???  Give Mom the money and chase Dad for the debt.  A man should either support his children or wish the hell he did.


    * Stop the use of discriminatory language.  The unborn are sisters and brothers in the human family.  It’s wrong to refer to them as ‘eggs’ or ‘clumps of cells’ or ‘potential persons’.  Name-calling is at the root of all kinds of abuse.  Speak as if you realize you’re talking about someone with as much right to live and to thrive as you have. 


    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.


    This is, of course, scandalous — but things in the US are infinitely better than they are in the developing world.  560,000 women die annually from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth, and most of them live in Third World countries.  Americans need to appreciate how good we have it, and how badly other people do.  As we start addressing our health care issues we need to open our eyes to the global problem. 


    African American women have five times as many abortions as White women.


    It’s is entirely true, and it has been widely reported, that the abortion rate for black women is 500% of the rate for white women.  What is less well known is the fact that the birth rate for black women is higher than that of white women.  The problem isn’t that African American women aren’t willing to bring their pregnancies to term (if this were the root issue, their birth rates would be lower than whites.)  Black women are ‘choosing life’ despite great difficulties.  The problem is that African Americans can’t afford birth control.


    As I stated above, we need to improve social supports to lower the abortion rate; but we also need to keep an eye on the pregnancy rate.  We definitely have a racial problem in this country, but the effects of this problem are sometimes unpredictable or difficult to see. 


    I 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.


    I very much appreciate the fact that you’ve shared some of your life story with us.  None of us arrive at our convictions in a vacuum.  Convictions are an outgrowth of experiences and I’m always delighted when somebody here shares their experience.


    Thanks again for all the good work you do! 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • marysia

    Paul thank you again for your support & your insights about reducing abortion.

    i live in a majority Black community & belong to an interracial family. so i have seen what you speak of, the struggle of african american women to have their babies, with so many odds against them.

    but one thing that eases the pain for many is the tendency to see childrearing as a communal effort. there is also a practice of intrafamily adoption, formal or informal, temporary or permanent.

    “mainstream” white US culture could learn a lot from the strengths of black families in this regard.

    On Common Ground Columnist & Editor, Nonviolent Choice Directory