Opinion: Preserve pregnancy support program funding

Rebecca Mastee

Pregnancy is a beautiful gift, but it can also be overwhelming. The feeling 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 do more to offer care for 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. The assistance comes in many forms, including counseling, adoption information, parenting classes and referrals for pre- or post-natal care. The program also helps to provide necessities such as baby clothing, formula and diapers.

Michigan should continue to fund programs that care for pregnant women and their babies, Mastee writes.

When facing obstacles during pregnancy, many women understandably question if they are able to handle it. Others feel pressured by loved ones 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 benefiting from the program’s services, approximately 85% of women who felt pressure to abort later changed their minds and gave birth to their babies (2019 statistics).

Since June 2014, this pro-woman, pro-life effort has served 8,393 clients statewide through 32,595 visits. Its results include overwhelming health outcomes: 98% of women were connected to a healthcare provider for prenatal care, 94% took their child to pediatric appointments, and 93% kept their child’s immunizations updated. Through two local providers alone — Pregnancy Aid and Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan — over 2,600 women have received support services, all at no cost to mothers or their families.

During fiscal year 2019, the Michigan Pregnancy and Parenting Support Services Program received $700,000 in the state budget. The funding is a small fraction of the state’s $58 billion budget, but its impact has made a statistical difference. The assistance has helped providers form genuine relationships with their clients, encouraging and celebrating their accomplishments. It has also empowered women to care for their children and to overcome obstacles.

Here’s an example: After finding out she was pregnant at age 19, one young woman had difficulty keeping up with prenatal care. A local provider helped find a solution to her transportation obstacles, and she began regularly attending medical appointments. She received counseling through the program and completed courses on nutrition, grief, self-esteem and Lamaze. During her visits with staff, she grew in confidence and energy. Today, she is an involved mom with great hope for the future.

Many in society regrettably tell women that motherhood will conflict with their goals, but a more compassionate relationship offered by Michigan’s pregnancy and parenting services assists women toward actually achieving them.

The Michigan Legislature has approved funding to continue offering a helping hand for pregnant women and their babies. Unfortunately, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eliminated the item in her Executive 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 children.

Regardless of where Michiganians stand on abortion, they can take pride in the work carried out by well-trained and highly capable volunteers and staff members at various pregnancy centers across the state. Even in the most difficult circumstances, the Pregnancy and Parenting Services Program offers compassion, assistance and hope. Michigan women and children deserve no less.

Rebecca Mastee is a policy advocate for Michigan Catholic Conference, the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan.