One Reason to Celebrate Health Care Reform If You Support 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. 

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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  • kerewin21

    I’m skeptical that the so-called longitudinal study is a triumph for women’s health. I am very suspicious that it is yet another attempt by anti-choice forces to come to dubious conclusions regarding the mental health effects of abortion, especially since the text you quoted regarding the study is straight from the manager’s amendment that included Nelson’s anti-abortion language (and not from the Mikulski amendment)

  • amie-newman

    Because, clearly, a study to assess mental health consequences of pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes has the potential to be twisted into another "See! Women experience a range of human emotions after various repro health experiences. That means abortion should be illegal!"

    I’d love to hear if people think this study is intended as an anti-choice distraction or an honest exploration of women’s psychological experiences related to various reproductive health experiences and is meant to be related to the MOTHERS Act as a postpartum research tool. 

    Thanks for bringing it up!


    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • crowepps

    The Melanie Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act

    The text of the bill is available here:


    It seems to me to be pretty clearly hope of identifying postpartum depression and preventing deaths from postpartum psychosis.

    Incidence (annual) of Postpartum psychosis: 1 in 500 to 1,000 new mothers

    Incidence Rate: approx 1 in 500 or 0.20% or 544,000 people in USA

    The suicide rate for postpartum psychosis is 5%. Death of infants from a mother suffering postpartum psychosis is estimated at 4%.

    Putting those statistics together, 5% of cases would be a little over 27,000 women at risk of suicide and 4% of cases would be almost 22,000 newborns at risk of death.


    While googling this I noted most of the hysterical paranoid worldview over-reactions seemed to focus not on abortion but instead evil-Pharma/anti-drug/anti-psychotropic medications.