Rebecca Mastee is a policy advocate for Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan.
Pregnancy is a beautiful gift, but it also can be overwhelming. The feeling of being overwhelmed is often magnified for women who struggle to make ends meet, face limited family involvement, receive a poor prenatal diagnosis, or experience abuse or other challenges. Public policies can and should do more to offer care to pregnant women. No mother should have to go through her pregnancy alone, especially when a helping hand can make a world of difference.
For the past five years, Michigan has prioritized women and children in various communities through the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program. This policy partners with existing pregnancy and social service agencies to provide comprehensive support and alternatives to abortion, offering assistance through the baby’s first birthday. This assistance comes in many forms, including counseling, adoption information, parenting classes, and referrals for pre- or post-natal care. The program also offers items such as baby clothing, formula, diapers, and furniture.
When facing obstacles during pregnancy, many women understandably question if they are able to handle it. Others feel pressured by a loved one to have an abortion. This Michigan initiative, however, demonstrates the importance of wrapping mother and baby with support, as abortion should never feel like a woman’s only option. In fact, after benefitting from the program’s services, approximately 85 percent of women who felt pressure to abort later changed their minds and gave birth to their babies (2019 statistics). Many in society regrettably tell women that motherhood will conflict with their goals. Each service provider in the program, however, reminds clients of all they can accomplish, including obtaining further education, moving into a career, and becoming a mother.
Since June 2014, this pro-woman, pro-life effort has served 8,393 clients statewide through 32,595 visits, all at no cost to mothers or their families. Its results include overwhelming health outcomes: 98 percent of women were connected to a health care provider for prenatal care, 94 percent took their child to pediatric appointments, and 93 percent kept their child’s immunizations updated.
During Fiscal Year 2019, the Legislature appropriated $700,000 toward the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program. The funding is a small fraction of the state’s $58 billion budget, but its impact has made a significant difference in local communities. The assistance has helped providers form genuine relationships with their clients, encouraging and celebrating their accomplishments. It has empowered women to care for their children and to overcome obstacles.
The experiences of Cassie and Katrina (not their real names), two clients of the Michigan program, demonstrate how this initiative helps women succeed. Cassie had struggled previously with addiction and abuse. Program staff provided counseling, substance abuse recovery, and referral to a domestic violence shelter as they built a relationship with Cassie. With the assistance she received, she gave birth to a healthy girl. Now several years sober, Cassie said her daughter’s birth “saved her life.” For Katrina, the news of her pregnancy came at a time when she had no access to permanent housing. After reaching out to her local provider, she received a temporary place to stay, maternity clothing, personal hygiene items, and bus passes for transportation to medical appointments. Katrina felt “safe, encouraged, and cared for” by staff, who helped her develop goals and confidence. Today, she is looking at colleges, living in safe and affordable housing, and planning a wedding to the baby’s father. The compassionate relationship offered by Michigan’s pregnancy and parenting services provided hope and strength to Cassie and Katrina when they needed it most.
The Michigan Legislature has approved funding to continue offering a helping hand for pregnant women and their babies. Unfortunately, Governor Whitmer eliminated the item in her budget recommendations, and it is unclear whether she will retain the appropriation included by the Legislature in the final budget. Pulling the funding, especially at a time of great need in our communities, would be unnecessarily divisive and harmful. Instead, Michigan should continue to lift up and care for its pregnant women and their children.
Continuing the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program should not be controversial. Throughout the 2019-2020 legislative session, Republicans and Democrats have each spoken about how women do not want to have abortions. Over the past five years, abortions have slightly decreased in the state, from 27,629 in 2014 to 26,716 in 2018. Initiatives such as Michigan’s program play an important role in these reductions by helping women feel a greater level of support. That work is worth preserving.
Regardless of where Michiganders stand on abortion, they can take pride in the services provided by well-trained and highly capable volunteers and staff at various pregnancy centers across the state. Even in the most difficult circumstances, the Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program offers compassion, assistance, and hope. Michigan women and children deserve no less.