Fighting for the Health and Rights of Pregnant Women

Taken from the July/August 2013 issue of The Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

In the context of pregnancy and birth, we want to ensure that a pregnant woman won't lose her job because of her pregnancy, and that she is able to choose how and where she'll give birth, as well as who delivers her baby. In many places in the U.S., however, women lack options because of unnecessary barriers and restrictions in these areas. (See the Young Feminist column for more on this issue.)

At the NWHN, we’re fighting for a world where a woman’s rights are respected and choices are available no matter where she lives – we’re excited to share with you several new Federal legislative efforts we’re advocating for that could improve pregnant women’s health and support their birth choices.

Maximizing Optimal Maternity Services (MOMS) for the 21st Century Act

Compared to the rest of the world, the United States is a safe place to be pregnant and give birth; but, we lag far behind other developed countries, and have maternal mortality rates that are higher than some developing countries. Additionally, women don’t always have access to the full range of choices that are available in other developed countries – like having a midwife attend the birth or giving birth at home or at a birth center. The MOMS for the 21st Century Act, which was introduced this year, will improve maternal health outcomes by promoting evidence-based maternity care; addressing the shortage of maternity care providers; and supporting an interdisciplinary maternity care workforce that includes certified professional midwives, certified midwives, and certified nurse-midwives. If passed, the act will give pregnant women more information and options so they can make the best decision for themselves.

Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act (HR 896 / S 425)

Over 40 percent of births in the U.S. are covered by Medicaid, so fostering high-quality maternity care for female Medicaid beneficiaries could improve maternal health outcomes for over one million women a year. The Quality Care for Moms and Babies Act, which was introduced this year, will establish quality measures for maternity care so women and their providers can make decisions based on the best available evidence. It will also support current projects that are successfully improving the quality of care and health outcomes for women and infants. Many are doing so by reducing unnecessary interventions like early elective C-sections and inductions, with the added benefit of reducing the costs as well.

Health Equity and Accountability Act

African-American women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than White women – and this disparity has not improved in 50 years. Given this appalling fact, the NWHN is thrilled to be working on legislation that will improve health equity for women of color. The Health Equity and Accountability Act, which will be introduced later this year, will reduce racial and ethnic health disparities in the health care system by funding efforts to improve language-access services and culturally appropriate care, increasing the diversity of the health care workforce, and reducing barriers to health care coverage and access. The bill specifically works to improve maternal health outcomes by supporting research on the causes of disparities in maternal morbidity and mortality and on how maternity care services can reduce these disparities.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (HR 1975 / S 942)

A healthy pregnancy is essential to maternal and infant health, yet many barriers to a healthy pregnancy exist, especially for low-income women. Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, pregnant workers still face environments and requirements that threaten their health. For example, Amanda Reeves, a truck driver who regularly lifted over 75 pounds, was told by her doctor not to lift over 20 pounds while pregnant. When she asked to switch to a light duty position during her pregnancy, her employers fired her instead of accommodating her medically necessary request. Although this left Amanda pregnant and unemployed, it didn’t violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which was introduced this year, provides stronger protections for pregnant workers. If passed, it will ensure that women can have healthy pregnancies and keep their jobs so they can continue to financially support their families.

Right now there is widespread support for initiatives to improve the quality and outcomes of health care and to more actively engage people in their health care decisions. Women’s health activists are using this momentum to build support for efforts to improve maternity care, including passage of this legislation. If all four of these bills became law, the health and rights of pregnant women would be significantly more secure than they are today – the NWHN will continue to work with our allies to advance these bills and you can help by asking your Members of Congress to co-sponsor these bills (Congress’ main number is 202.224.3121).

Kate Ryan is the NWHN Senior Program Coordinator.

Melissa Torres-Montoya is the NWHN Program Coordinator.