Advocacy efforts by the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners helped lead to the enactment of a new law in Georgia that will improve maternal health for mothers. The law extends postpartum Medicaid coverage from 60 days to six months after delivery.
Georgia’s maternal mortality rate is more than twice the national average, and the rate for Black women is more than three times the rate for white women. Standard, affordable postpartum care for mothers in every community is needed to improve maternal health and reduce racial disparities.
The new law, H.B. 1114, is expected to benefit almost 65,000 Georgia mothers and to particularly benefit Black mothers. Black women in Georgia are about twice as likely as the state’s white women to live in poverty, and more than half of births in Georgia are to low-income women covered by Medicaid. Postpartum care includes help with physical and psychological recovery and well-being, help with infant care and feeding, counseling as needed, and more.
“I’m thankful to all our local partners—from community groups to lawmakers—who joined us in working diligently over the past year to get this bill enacted,” said Breana Lipscomb, Senior Manager of the Center’s Maternal Health and Rights Initiative. “The state of Georgia has a long way to go, but this is an important step forward in improving maternal health for new mothers in our state.”
In advocating for the passage of H.B. 1114, Lipscomb worked to convene stakeholders—including policymakers, reproductive justice community members, public health professionals, and medical professionals—to testify at hearings and equip lawmakers with critical information.
“The maternal mortality issue was one of the most important issues and budget priorities of the 2020 session,” says state Representative Able Mable Thomas, who has been amplifying the need for legislative action on maternal mortality issues for years. “We must continue to fight for Black mothers who die three to four times more than white mothers at childbirth.”
Bill’s Passage Was a Team Effort with Community Leaders and Lawmakers
A postpartum Medicaid extension bill was first introduced in the 2019 session by state Representative Renitta Shannon. "I was first to file a House bill to extend Medicaid to 12 months for those who have just given birth,” says Shannon, “because I knew that Black womxn were unnecessarily dying at rates far higher than their white counterparts partly because of a lack of access to healthcare. I want to personally thank Black and Brown women of the Reproductive Justice community for growing national awareness about the epidemic of Maternal Mortality.”
Amber Mack, Research & Policy Analyst for Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia, described some of the hurdles the bill’s advocates had to navigate. "We faced many challenges this legislative session due to the COVID-19 pandemic and additional calls for significant budget cuts. However, with the passage of H.B. 1114 and its requisite $19.7M in funding, we are one step closer to ensuring that mothers have critical coverage to ensure the prevention of maternal death and morbidity in the postpartum period."
Added Renee Smith, State Policy Manager, Black Mamas Matter Alliance: “The outcomes of this legislative session showed the resilience of community-based organizations to advocate for those most in need during a pivotal time in public health. The push to center maternal health for all has been long and difficult, but even in the reality of a pandemic and quarantine, we stood together to fight for maternal health funding and postpartum Medicaid extension.”
The measure was passed in June by both chambers of Georgia’s General Assembly with unanimous, bipartisan support. Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law on July 16.
A Step Forward, But the Work Goes On
Extending postpartum Medicaid coverage is one step in reducing the state’s high maternal mortality rate. “We need 12 months of postpartum coverage for Georgia’s mothers,” says Lipscomb. “We also need increased access to midwifery care, doula services, and lactation support—access that doesn’t marginalize birth workers of color.”
The Center continues to work toward improved maternal health as part of its overall focus on reproductive rights as human rights. Its U.S. Maternal Health and Rights Initiative—which promotes the human rights of pregnant, birthing, and postpartum people—seeks government accountability for discrimination and inequalities in maternal health, and it provides advocates, lawmakers, and leaders with human rights-based advocacy tools that they can use to catalyze policy change.
As the Center’s first U.S. Maternal Health and Rights Initiative Manager, Lipscomb develops advocacy campaigns to promote Black maternal health, particularly in the South. Her efforts to pass H.B. 1114 earned the inaugural Kira Johnson Advocate of the Year Award for work on Black maternal health, presented by March for Moms and 4Kira4Moms, organizations that advocate for mothers’ and families’ health and access to care and work to educate the public about maternal mortality.