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States with abortion bans are among least supportive for mothers and children

Republican Governor Tate Reeves addresses the crowd at the pavilion in Founders Square at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., on July 28.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

In Mississippi, which brought the abortion case that ended Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, Governor Tate Reeves vowed the state would now “take every step necessary to support mothers and children.”

Today, however, Mississippi fares poorly on just about any measure of that goal. Its infant and maternal mortality rates are among the worst in the nation.

State leaders have rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, leaving an estimated 43,000 women of reproductive age without health insurance. They have chosen not to extend Medicaid to women for a full year after giving birth. And they have a welfare program that gives some of the country’s least generous cash assistance — a maximum of $260 a month for a poor mother raising two children.

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Mississippi embodies a national pattern: States that have banned abortion, or are expected to, have among the nation’s weakest social services for women and children, and have higher rates of death for infants and mothers.

According to a New York Times analysis, the 24 states that have banned abortion (or probably will) fare worse on a broad range of outcomes than states where abortion will probably remain legal — including child and maternal mortality, teenage birthrates, and the share of women and children who are uninsured. The states deemed likely to ban abortion either have laws predating Roe that ban abortion; have recently passed stringent restrictions; or have legislatures that are actively considering new bans.

The majority of these states have turned down the yearlong Medicaid postpartum extension. Nine have declined the health care act’s Medicaid expansion, which provides health care to the poor. None offer new parents paid leave from work to care for their newborns.

“The safety net is woefully inadequate,” said Carol Burnett, who works with poor and single mothers as executive director of the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative, a nonprofit. “All of these demonstrated state-level obstacles prevent moms from getting the help they need, the health care they need, the child care they need.”

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Many antiabortion activists have acknowledged that improving the health and livelihoods of mothers and young children is an important goal for their movement.

“This has been my lecture to the prolife movement for the last year,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life. “No woman stands alone in the post-Roe America.”

But in many of these states, skepticism of government aid runs as deep as opposition to abortion. And racism has played a role over generations in weakening safety nets for all poor residents, researchers and historians say.

Studies have repeatedly found that states where the safety net is the least generous and the hardest to access tend to be those with relatively more Black residents. That has further implications for Black women, who have a maternal mortality rate nationally that is nearly three times that of white women.

Social spending is not the only answer to poverty and poor public health, and some in the antiabortion movement stress that they want to help women and children — just not with more government spending. But there is a strong link between state policy choices and outcomes for mothers and children, researchers have found.

Perhaps the clearest example is health insurance. Numerous studies have tied it to improved health and financial security for poor Americans. Since 2014, states have had the option to expand their Medicaid programs to cover nearly all poor adults, with the federal government paying 90 percent or more of the cost. But nine of the states planning to ban abortion have not expanded it, citing opposition to the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have long vowed to repeal; a disinclination to offer health benefits to poor Americans who do not work; or concerns about the 10 percent of the bill left to state governments to finance.

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“Closing the Medicaid gap is the first and best option for women’s health care,” said Allison Orris, a senior fellow focused on health policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Since 2021, states have also had the choice to expand Medicaid to cover women for a full year after a birth instead of two months. Just 16 states have declined to do so or opted for a shorter period — all but three of them are also banning or seeking to ban abortion.

Women who are poor and pregnant are eligible for Medicaid across the country, and the program pays for 4 in 10 births nationwide. But health experts say it also matters that women are covered for an extended period after birth, and for the years leading up to pregnancy. Conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and substance abuse can lead to pregnancy complications and poor infant health. Research suggests that Medicaid expansion can reduce maternal mortality. Medicaid also pays for contraception.

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