Advocates for maternal health marched outside the state Capitol Monday. The group chanted phrases like “mothers matter” and carryied signs with phrases like “maternal health is mental health.” Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder
Advocates for maternal health gathered outside the state Capitol Monday to rally for more resources to support Georgia’s mothers.
“We’ve made some strides over the last several years – and I don’t want to discount that – but we have a lot more work to do. Our goal cannot just be, ‘Don’t die,’” said Ky Lindberg, chief executive officer of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies.
State lawmakers extended postpartum Medicaid to a full year last session, ensuring low-income mothers have insurance during what is a vulnerable time for their health. And on the federal level, Congress recently passed expanded protections for workers who are pregnant or nursing.
But Georgia continues to struggle with maternal mortality. Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey told lawmakers last week that a new state report set to be released next month will show an increase in maternal deaths.
“We are going to see an increase in maternal mortality during the time of COVID, as has been reported elsewhere,” Toomey said. “But this is something that was not unexpected. Sad but not unexpected.”
Discussions about maternal health at the statehouse are also now playing out in the shadow of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the federal protection of abortion access last summer.
Georgia’s six-week abortion ban is currently in effect while the state Supreme Court waits to hear arguments in late March. A Fulton County judge concluded the 2019 law is unconstitutional since it was passed before Roe v. Wade was overturned, but the state appealed the ruling.
Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican who pushed for longer postpartum Medicaid coverage, said Monday that it’s too soon to say what health care policies are needed if Georgia’s abortion ban is allowed to stand.
One of the consequences of the law, she said, has been confusion among obstetrics and gynecologists who do not perform abortions but treat pregnant patients, which is one of the themes in the lawsuit challenging the law.
“There are some questions, and I think the first thing we have to do is just sit back and wait and see what our Supreme Court does,” said Cooper, who stopped by Monday’s rally.
Lindberg with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies said the maternal health policies her group has been advocating for – like health insurance and workplace accommodations – are needed now more than ever.
“Whatever side of the aisle you’re on – whatever your ideological standpoint is – if we’re going to have an influx of pregnant people, if we’re going to have an influx of babies that were maybe unexpected, then we have to provide a safe space to support those birthers and those babies,” Lindberg said.
Advocates marched outside the state Capitol, with the group chanting phrases like “mothers matter” and carrying signs with messages like “maternal health is mental health.”
Advocates are calling for a tobacco tax increase to increase funding for maternal and infant programs and pushing state lawmakers to pass policies that will grow the workforce caring for pregnant patients, such as doulas. They also argue that a mother’s oral health care should be covered by postpartum Medicaid.
“The teeth are in our body, y’all, and pregnancy takes its toll on those teeth,” said Margaret Master, who sits on Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies’ board. “We need to keep up the pressure. The road is long. Our foundation can be strong.”
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