When was pregnant with my second child, instead of driving to my local doctor’s office for prenatal checkups, I drove 45-minutes from our house in Bath, Maine, to an abandoned church in Lewiston where boxes of donated food filled the lobby and economically disadvantaged, single moms came together for support for their young children.
I was neither economically disadvantaged nor single, and yet my catastrophic health insurance plan – the only one my family could afford – did not cover maternity services. And so, I waited my turn on a folding chair to lay on a saggy couch in a side room where Jan Wilson, a lay midwife, would listen to my unborn child’s heartbeat and check my blood pressure before sending me home.
Not once throughout my pregnancy did I receive an ultrasound, because despite my husband’s steady income, we couldn’t afford it. That fall, when I went into labor, Jan drove to our house and delivered our son at home, for which we paid a total of about $2,000. All but $500 of that fee (which included my prenatal visits) went to a supervising certified-nurse midwife who drove up from Cumberland.
Thankfully, all went well, and this week that son is finishing his second year of college. Yet I find it ironic that a state, which still does not cover the cost of maternity care for all women, now wants to fund abortion care. This week, as reported by the Portland Press Herald, House lawmakers approved a bill that would require Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurance companies to pay for abortions. Members of a separate legislative committee endorsed a bill, LD 1261, that would also expand access to abortion.
But what if instead of using taxpayer’s money to publicly fund a private procedure that many find morally reprehensible, we used that same money to expand maternity care to all women – including those like myself who earn too much to qualify for state coverage but too little to pay for quality private insurance? Or what if our state legislators chose to fund more family support centers, such as Hope House, which Jan, and her husband, Bruce Wilson, have operated in Lewiston for more than thirty years?
I’ve seen the good such centers can do. For a couple of years after Jan delivered my son, I volunteered at Hope House, which not only provides maternity services, but distributes food and clothing to families in need, offers free parenting classes and regularly hosts community-wide events where moms and their children can feel safe, loved and supported.
Although Jan no longer works as a midwife and the sagging couch in her office has been replaced with a modern medical table, Hope House still offers free pre-natal care – now along with ultrasounds. And its community outreach is going strong, providing encouragement and much-needed resources for the many new immigrants and long-time residents who call Lewiston home. Instead of expanding funding and access to abortions, let’s use that same money to support women so that they will know they have other options.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine. The Best Birthday, the third book in her Lantern Hill Farm children’s picture-book series, is available now. Connect at www.meadowrue.com