Jessica Garvin was a career-driven bride when she found out she was pregnant, news she wasn’t thrilled to hear.
“I felt like I had to choose between success in my professional life and success as a mother, and I never wanted to choose between the two,” said Garvin, who is now a Republican senator from the United States. Duncan State.
With strong family support, access to quality health care and the ability to take maternity leave from work, Garvin gave birth to a son, who is now 11 years old.
Postpartum depression was another challenge she was able to overcome with family support and mental health care, things that are often out of reach for many women across the state.
“Abortion was not an option for me because I had this (support) around me,” Garvin said. “But if I hadn’t had that support system, I might have had the word abortion in my vocabulary as well, which is why I understand why people who feel like they can’t do it by they themselves may be considering abortion.”
Federal abortion protections ended this year when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, opening the door for Oklahoma’s Republican majority to ban abortion procedures. Opponents of the abortion ban saw it as taking away a personal right, but also as additional strain on a local health care system that has some of the worst outcomes in the country for children and new mothers.
But abortion rights advocates and those who support a ban say the coming months will be a critical time for lawmakers to take steps to expand prenatal and postnatal health care services, especially if the number of pregnancies unplanned increases.
“I don’t think there was a more important time to address this issue because we were already in a maternal health crisis in Oklahoma,” said Erin Coppenbarger, manager of maternal health initiatives and for March of Dimes, a national organization working to improve the health of mothers and babies.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has signed several anti-abortion bills into law this year, agrees the state should focus on improving support services, whether it’s adoption, health care or of advice.
“From the moment life begins at conception, we have a responsibility as human beings to do everything we can to protect this baby’s life and the life of the mother,” Stitt said after signed an anti-abortion bill this year.
Governor’s task force recommends expanding Medicaid coverage
Last week, a task force established by the governor studying ways to improve support for new mothers recommended the state expand its Medicaid program.
Oklahoma has the lowest income cap in the nation for Medicaid pregnancy coverage, which is currently limited to pregnant women whose incomes can reach 138% of the federal poverty level.
The task force recommended an increase to 205% in the federal poverty level to expand coverage to nearly 2,500 more women, according to state estimates.
After:Stitt launches task force to support families during pregnancies in post-Roe era
The task force also recommended extending postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.
Stitt said he supports both recommendations, which will require federal government approval.
“I guess you could frame it as a silver lining (of the abortion ban), but we should have done this stuff regardless,” said Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, speaking of the two recommendations for Medicaid expansion.
Hicks, who supports abortion rights, drafted a bill in 2020 that would have extended postnatal care to a full year. His bill was never heard.
“I’m really, really excited (about these proposals) because that’s what I wanted to see two years ago,” Hicks said. “The question that comes to mind is how many more families could we have helped if we had done it sooner, because the opportunity presented itself.”
The ability to expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program, called SoonerCare, is made possible by federal laws often criticized by Republican state leaders.
Last year’s US bailout, a legislative package signed by President Joe Biden, allowed states to extend postpartum coverage for up to a year, which at least 36 states have already chosen to do. do, according to Kaiser Health News.
The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, one of former President Barack Obama’s signature policies, has also helped improve birth outcomes in many states, according to a 2020 study by Columbia University School of Social Work.
After:Although it has improved some, Oklahoma still ranks low for child well-being in new report
While state officials had long rejected expansion, Oklahoma voters in 2020 approved a state question to expand Medicaid.
“When voters embraced the expansion, they were showing our state leaders that Oklahomans see the value in Medicaid and see the value in increasing our support for our neighbors, so (the state leaders) are really following the ‘example of Oklahomans,” said Emma Morris, a health care analyst at the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
According to data from the Oklahoma Policy Institute, increasing the income level cap for pregnant women to qualify for SoonerCare would bring Oklahoma in line with many neighboring states, including Texas, which already has a 203% cap.
At 70%, Oklahoma has the lowest health insurance coverage rate for pregnant women in the nation, according to a 2020 March of Dimes report.
Coppenbarger, who works for March of Dimes, said the two expansion proposals will save the lives of thousands of women, especially those who develop pregnancy-related health complications months after giving birth.
“I don’t even know where the 60-day window comes from, but 50% of deaths occur beyond the 60-day window,” Coppenbarger said.
Lawmakers expected to discuss crisis centers, contraception and other issues in next session
Garvin, the Duncan State senator, said she hopes to see a continued effort in the next legislative session to expand health care for women and children.
She plans to introduce bills that would guarantee women’s access to contraception.
“I’m looking at codifying the right to birth control, to say ‘No, you can’t have an abortion,’ but also ‘Yes, you can have contraception,'” Garvin said. “I just want women to feel safe knowing they can access birth control and never have to worry about whether their doctor is going to give them birth control or not.”
However, Garvin realizes that any effort will be met with concern to spend more money.
“When I talked (last year) about providing tampons, some (legislators) said, ‘Oh, it’s just another expensive social program,'” Garvin said. “But the reality is when you provide tampons and pads to women you’re going to see an increase in that cost, but how many people are we going to keep out of hospital because they don’t have an infection. “It saves us money in the long run.
The two Medicaid expansion proposals will cost $12.3 million a year, with the federal government bearing about two-thirds of the cost.
The Oklahoma Health Care Authority plans to use cash reserves to cover additional costs for this fiscal year and “will work with the Legislature to identify a source of sustainable funding for fiscal year 2024 and beyond,” said Melissa Richey, agency spokesperson.
Republican lawmakers have also said they want to increase funding for crisis pregnancy centers, controversial organizations the state has struggled to effectively send money to in recent years.
The Oklahoma Pregnancy Care Network, which is an Oklahoma City-based nonprofit that won a contract with the Oklahoma State Department of Health in 2020 to disburse public funds to multiple centers across the state, initially pledged to funnel $1.6 million to numerous centers across the state. . But a Department of Health audit this year found it had dispersed only around 6% of its projection, spending three times as much on its own salaries as it did on pregnancy centres.
“The level of performance to date is concerning, as well as the limited number of women actually served,” the audit said.
After:Oklahoma’s anti-abortion program has pledged to help 9,300 women. He spent more on salaries than aid
In recent months, the nonprofit has sent more state money to pregnancy centers in times of crisis, according to records obtained by The Oklahoman.
In June, $91,000 was sent to seven different crisis pregnancy centers.
Crisis pregnancy centers, often associated with religious organizations and opposed to abortion, have been found by some to provide misinformation about abortion procedures in an attempt to induce women to continue with their pregnancies.
Hicks, the Democratic senator from Oklahoma City, said the state should focus on health care funding and state programs.
“I’m hoping we’ll see policies that can improve care, but I fear in the short term that we’ve just made it worse (by banning abortion),” Hicks said.
While Hicks hopes to see more proposals this legislative session that aim to improve health care, she’s also worried about bills that may seek to limit contraception and continue to make it harder for schools to weigh in on issues. like sex education, topics that some lawmakers have already raised on the campaign trail this election year.
“It’s about improving access to health care, but it’s also about increasing women’s financial and economic independence, and improving education in schools,” Hicks said. “We know the things that work, and if we’re serious about mother’s life, then we need to do all of those things now.”