Mother’s Day has meant different things to me over the years.
This includes celebrating my own mother and mother figures, participating in special services at church, being a support to friends who have lost their moms or children or who long to be mothers, and spending time with my son or godchildren.
This past Sunday, my 5-year-old son and I talked about angels, watched “My Little Pony,” picked out some chairs for our dining room and ordered dessert.
As delightful as my day was, each year, and increasingly so over the past few years, Mother’s Day has led me to experience righteous outrage and ask a deeper question.
When everyone from Hallmark to the grocery store to my child’s preschool goes out of their way to say how much they value moms, the question that burns in me is: What would our society look like if we really valued mothers’ and women’s lives?
People of good faith should ask this question.
The United States is the only developed country in the world with a rising rate of maternal mortality – and due to structural and institutional barriers to care, the maternal mortality crisis affects Black and Indigenous women at much higher rates.
There are myriad causes. One that is particularly salient: We know that nearly a third of all preventable maternal deaths occur in the year after women give birth. Yet, Medicaid, which covers nearly half of all births in the United States, only guarantees coverage during the first 60 days of the postpartum period.
I will reproduce these words again for emphasis: We know that a third of preventable maternal deaths occur in a period during which our country does not ensure that mothers have basic health coverage.
While the American Rescue Plan Act included a groundbreaking provision that seeks to make it easier for states to extend Medicaid during this critical 12-month period and the Biden administration has already approved the request from one state to extend this coverage, there are miles to go on the road to ensuring access and coverage.
Valuing women’s lives is about protecting basic preventative services afforded to women under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), prior to which basic cancer screenings were inaccessible and being pregnant was considered a preexisting condition.
Notwithstanding the importance of the ACA for women’s health, the law remains under attack, with a recent lawsuit seeking to invalidate a provision that protects the accessibly of lifesaving women’s care.
Mother’s Day marks the beginning every year of National Women’s Health Week, which is a week where we emphasize the importance of making the health of women and girls a priority.
Advocating for women’s health and valuing women’s lives isn’t just about ensuring adequate health care coverage, although that is critical. It is also about creating access pathways for education and opportunity, affordable childcare and ensuring equal pay for equal work.
A body of literature documents the relationship between economic and social opportunity and the health and well-being of people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the economic well-being of women and mothers. Even before the pandemic, however, economic inequity and a lack of affordable childcare wreaked havoc on families and communities.
Valuing mothers is also about valuing women and their autonomy, about promoting access to a full scope of reproductive health care – care used by mothers every day – that continues to be under attack in states throughout the country.
They also have a disproportionate and negative impact on communities that experience structural and institutional marginalization, such as communities of color.
In our own lives, we can support one another and create cultures on our teams in workplaces, at schools, at homes and in our communities that offer a new way.
We can talk openly about and advocate for the need for sound, evidence-based public policy. We can get to know our elected officials and become community leaders who hold them accountable to women and for women’s health.
We can destigmatize discussions about health, family planning and reproductive health care, and we can talk openly about the struggles we face and the help we need to overcome them.
This world may seem a far place from where we are now, but we have to believe it is in reach.
It is in reach if we always ask the right questions.
What would the world look like if we valued women’s lives?
What if, in addition to posting signs wishing mother’s a happy Mother’s Day and giving them bouquets of flowers, we, as a society, decided that women’s lives were worth valuing and saving?
What if we decided that nothing – not political polarization, ideology or pride – would get in the way of lifting up and supporting women and moms?
People of good faith should ask these questions – and seek to answer these questions through their actions – not just on Mother’s Day but every day.
Editor’s note: This article is being published during National Women’s Health Week (May 9-15). An April 23 podcast interview with China Dickerson and Dr. Jen Villavicencio on Good Faith Weekly discussed policy and health practices surrounding reproductive rights.
A lawyer in Washington, DC, Perryman lives with her husband and five-year-old son. She presently serves as general counsel and chief legal officer of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the nation’s leading organization of physicians dedicated to serving women and is also an instructor in American University’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program. The views expressed in this column are her own and not her employers’. She is a member of the Good Faith Media strategic advisory board for news and opinion.