What's So Wrong With Covering Maternal Care?
Cutting off benefits to mothers is quite figuratively biting the hand that feeds us
The first time I heard someone called a “breeder” was in high school. While discussing the issue of overpopulation in government, a student made a comment that no one should have more than two children. I raised my hand and explained that my parents had eight. Before I could finish my counterargument, the student cut me off, “Your parents are breeders. They are part of the problem.”
His rage knocked me for a loop. I didn’t understand how someone who came from a “breeder” and who would rely on that said “breeder” for dinner that night would have such rage against them. And as I’ve gotten older and had children of my own, I still am confused by this rage. I can understand frustration with mothers who let their kids cry in a restaurant or kick other children at the park, because that is a little annoying. But whenever I see ire directed against women simply for reproducing, I can’t wrap my head around it. Someone had to have a child for you to be here. Someone had to feed you and bathe you and send you to school so you could one day decry the status of “breeders.” So, hi pot. Meet kettle.
And neither does it make sense for opponents of the Affordable Care Act to lash out against mandated coverage for maternal care. A recent article in The Atlantic recounts the myriad of commentators and politicians who’ve spoken out against maternal coverage mandated in the ACA. Most notably Representative Renee Ellmers, who asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius during a hearing if a man has ever delivered a baby. She followed up with the comment that a “single male, age 32, does not need maternity coverage.”
And yet, I might be mistaken, but women don’t usually just get pregnant on their own. Someone had to impregnate that 22-year-old college student and it was probably the single male, age 32. So yes, it’s a good thing he’s helping with maternal coverage.
Just a cursory check of internet news stories and articles (and their comments sections), proves that everyone has an opinion on parenting and how mothers should do things better or what they should and should not eat, drink or wear. But when it comes to actually accepting the political realities of raising children in a society that values them, well, things get a little Little Red Hen—No one wants to help. We all want the benefits of a robust economy and a vibrant workforce, yet it would seem that we don’t want to put the effort into developing family-centered policies that enable that future to materialize.
The Catch-22 here is that the same critics of maternal coverage also blanch at coverage for contraception. Leaving women between a rock and a very judgmental place. If you need contraception, you are a woman of low moral character. But if you have a baby then, why weren’t you using contraception? Sorry critics, but you can’t have it both ways.
And the idea that contraceptive and maternal coverage is something just for irresponsible teen moms, is just a myth. In the United States nearly four out of 10 pregnancies is unplanned. A 2011 study done by the non-profit Guttmacher Institute found that nearly “65 percent to 75 percent of unintended pregnancies were considered mistimed and 25 percent to 35 percent unwanted.” And this isn’t just among teens and single women, this is married couples in traditional long-term relationships. Also, as E.J. Dionne points out in The Washington Post, it makes logical sense that the party that opposes abortion should be in favor of maternal coverage. But of course, that’s not the case.
However, the larger problem here isn’t just with critiques of the ACA, it’s how women and their bodies become the strawman for political quibbling. Like Mitt Romney, we blame mothers when children head to school with guns. We point the finger at mothers for bad behavior, for obesity, for bullying, for draining the system of valuable resources with all of their out of wedlock babies. But when it comes to enacting policies that will help women be better parents to their children, it’s all apocalyptic hand wringing. We seem to forget that these women aren’t just magically knocking themselves up. That the act of conception and the act of contraception isn’t just a woman’s job—it belongs to both parties. And we also seem to forget that a vibrant birth rate is also part of a vibrant economy. Just as high birth rates can place economic strains on populations in the throes of poverty, so too can low fertility rates hamper economic development in wealthier nations. Countries like Spain and Germany are facing the problem of negative population growth, such as the growing needs of an aging population and the stress of a progressively smaller tax base.
Ultimately, we have to stop shirking social responsibility to mothers, while using them as a scapegoat for unpopular policies. We need to realize that cutting off benefits to mothers is, quite figuratively, biting the hand that feeds us.
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