At least 5,000 more babies will be born in Mississippi each year than in the past now that abortion is almost completely outlawed. But the Magnolia State is not prepared to handle it, officials say. Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney shared the estimate with members of the Mississippi Senate last week.
“We heard testimony from Dr. Edney in particular, but others also, that as a result of the Dobbs decision, … that on a conservative basis, there will be 5,000 additional births,” Mississippi Sen. Brice Wiggins, a Pascagoula Republican, said during a Sept. 28, 2022, hearing for the Senate Study Group on Women, Children, and Families.
Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, a Republican who serves as the Senate president, appointed the committee after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Mississippi abortion ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June, overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing the state to ban nearly all abortions. The law allows limited, tenuous exceptions for rape and to preserve a pregnant person’s life, but it forced the state’s only abortion clinic to close in July.
During the Sept. 28 hearing, Wiggins told Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services Commissioner Andrea Sanders that Edney’s testimony indicated that most of the additional 5,000 children born will be “unwanted or unplanned.” He said that about 60% of children in those circumstances “are on Medicaid” and “end up in the system.”
“So are y’all prepared for 5,000 additional kids across the state?” Wiggins asked Sanders.
“No sir. Not by myself, I’m not,” replied the MDCPS commissioner, whose agency oversees child welfare issues including foster care, child abuse and neglect. MDCPS estimates that there are currently about 4,000 Mississippi children currently in foster care.
“So that’s something we should be concerned about,” Wiggins said.
“It concerns me,” Sanders said. “And I would appreciate everyone considering it a problem we need to solve together.”
The Most Dangerous State For Babies
During the first day of hearings on Sept. 27, 2022, senators reviewed the abysmal statistics for children born in Mississippi and their parents. Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate, which measures how many infants die in Mississippi before their first birthday. New CDC data released on the day of the first hearing showed that, in 2020, 8.12 out of 1,000 babies in Mississippi died before their first birthday, compared to the national average of 5.4.
CDC data also shows that Mississippi leads the nation in births to unmarried mothers, preterm births, miscarriages and low birthweight rates. Mississippi has one of the nation’s highest maternal mortality rates. In each instance, Black and other non-white infants and mothers fared significantly worse than white ones.
From 2013 to 2016, Mississippi’s pregnancy-related maternal mortality rate was 1.9 times higher than the U.S. as a whole, with Black women at three times the risk of white women.
More than half of Mississippi’s 82 counties do not have an OB-GYN, and many do not have hospitals. Less than a month before the Dobbs decision, a Hancock County hospital closed its labor and delivery department.
‘Whoop! You’re On Your Own’
Hosemann’s commission in the Mississippi Senate and House Speaker Philip Gunn’s Commission on Life in the Mississippi House are supposed to address the state’s poor maternal, fetal and infant health outcomes and propose policy solutions. But Gunn has already foreclosed several policy solutions championed by health care experts across the state.
During the last legislative term alone, Speaker Gunn killed or declined to support efforts to provide health care options for new mothers. This spring, Republican Mississippi Sen. Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, sponsored a bill that would have ensured that low-income new mothers in Mississippi have access to postpartum Medicaid coverage for 12 months after giving birth. Currently, that coverage is only available for two months.
The Republican-led Mississippi Senate voted 46-5 for the postpartum Medicaid extension. On the Senate floor, Blackwell referenced the state’s history of passing anti-abortion laws.
“I think we’ve done an excellent job of protecting the baby in the womb. But once it’s out of the womb it’s like, ‘Whoop!’ You’re on your own,” he said.
In March, though, the bill died for the second year in a row after Mississippi House leaders refused to put it to a vote. Gunn acknowledged to AP’s Emily Wagster Pettus that his decision to spike the bill came from a fear of the appearance of “Medicaid expansion.”
Gunn, the past chairman of the board of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, has long opposed expanding Medicaid broadly in the state, not just postpartum coverage. Studies estimate that as many as 300,000 working Mississippians who make too much for traditional Medicaid—but not enough to afford health insurance—could gain health-care access if the state accepted billions from the federal government to expand the program.
“As I’ve said very publicly, I’m opposed to Medicaid expansion,” Gunn told the AP on March 9, erroneously conflating general Medicaid expansion with the targeted postpartum extension. “We need to look for ways to keep people off, not put them on.”
The Mississippi Senate’s Study Group on Women, Children, and Families has two more hearings scheduled this month on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26. Gunn has yet to announce dates for the House Commission on Life’s hearings.