July 14, 2017
Last year, I gave birth to my first child. In the same year, the maternal mortality rate in TN was 26 deaths per 100,000 births. My own husband told me, “That doesn’t seem too high.” But when you consider that TN has one of the highest rates in the nation, a nation whose maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed nation, it suddenly seems absurd. I didn’t know when I got pregnant or went into labor how dangerous it still is just to have a baby in the United States. I assumed, like we all do, that pregnancy related deaths were rare. If you’ve been reading the news lately, especially here in Nashville, you might have noticed maternal deaths are not as rare as we thought. I am hoping to have more children, but when I think about the fact that I am 3 to 6 times more likely to die here than I would be in comparable western countries, I can’t help but pause and seriously consider the risks to being a child-bearing woman in the US.
With my employer provided insurance, I had the advantage of being able to receive adequate pre-natal and post-partum care without having to choose between that or putting food on the table or buying clothes for my rapidly growing daughter. If I had a concern or question during pregnancy or those early infant months, I didn’t have to wait in fear for my life or my child’s life because I couldn’t afford to go see the OB or pediatrician. I just went, and had peace of mind. So even though I still paid hundreds in medical bills after my daughter’s birth, even with insurance, here I am now, relatively financially stable. Having a baby didn’t tank us financially. However, my normal, healthy pregnancy and delivery costs of nearly $10,000 would not have been affordable without insurance.
How sad it is for so many other mothers that such a joyful celebration of life can also be the cause of financial collapse. That is why I’m speaking out today. For thousands of child-bearing women in TN alone to lose their coverage because of the Senate’s healthcare legislation is unconscionable. These are not numbers to be sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget. These are children of God who at this point in time in this great country cannot afford their healthcare costs without insurance. As a United Methodist pastor and Nashville faith leader, I have a duty to my congregation, my community, and my city, to condemn any action that would cause women just like me to be overrun by medical debt when they are already risking their very lives just to birth a child.
When I hear people argue that those who want insurance should find jobs that provide it, I think of my many hard-working family members that do not have employer provided insurance plans. My husband, father, father-in-law, brother, brother-in-law, and sister all rely on spouses or the marketplace for their plans. They are all hard-working individuals in fields they love and feel called to. I also think about the many individuals I see walk through my church needing assistance with basic necessities like gas and groceries, beloved children of God with diabetes, kidney failure, chronic back pain, and other illnesses who rely on Medicaid to be able to get the help they need. These are not lazy people. In my experience, they often work 2 to 3 jobs, just to pay rent and keep the lights on.
Regardless of one’s employment or economic status, the United Methodist Social Principles state that healthcare is a basic human right, not a privilege for those who can afford it, no matter if they’re in the career of their dreams, or in a job just to make the rent payment this month, or even sacrificing a job all together because they can’t afford childcare. It is a responsibility for all of us to ensure that our neighbors, the ones we have been charged by our Lord Jesus Christ to love as ourselves, have access to adequate and affordable healthcare. Period. No qualifiers.
Ezekiel 34 deals harshly with those leaders who do not care for their poor: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.” Senator, do not be a harsh ruler, but shepherd your flock with great care and concern for their health and wellness. I pray to the Lord that it will be so.
Rev. Shelby Lucas Slowey