As Texas ‘heartbeat’ bill passed, Catholics also pushed to expand state benefits for mothers

As Texas ‘heartbeat’ bill passed, Catholics also pushed to expand state benefits for mothers

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Washington D.C., Sep 23, 2021 / 13:15 pm (CNA).

In addition to two major pro-life bills, the Texas Catholic Conference has successfully pushed for better support  for pregnant and postpartum mothers and their families. This reaffirms that pro-lifers care about women and families, and not only unborn children, says the conference’s executive director. 

“I think from a Catholic perspective, it’s very clear. And at the legislature, the legislators on both sides of the aisle are very aware that the Catholic bishops support the dignity of all human life from conception and natural death,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, in an interview with CNA on Wednesday. 

Allmon noted that the state’s Catholic dioceses operate more than 200 pro-life pregnancy centers to assist women and their children for up to five years after birth. The conference itself has consistently advocated for policies that would directly assist women and their families, she added. 

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops is the public policy arm of the state’s bishops. Texas has 15 Catholic dioceses, as well as the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

While much notice has been given to the recently-enacted “Heartbeat Act” in Texas, which bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, Allmon said that other pro-life legislation was passed during the state’s last legislative session. In addition to the Heartbeat Law, the legislature passed a “trigger ban” on abortion that will go into effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned at the Supreme Court. 

Thus, the state’s Catholic dioceses knew they had to be prepared to support women in unexpected pregnancies, who might no longer have abortions because of the laws. 

“Many of our dioceses have engaged deeply in the ‘Walking With Moms in Need’ program that USCCB has launched,” she said. The program is meant to help parishes reach out to and assist local women in unexpected pregnancies. Texas dioceses have been working since early in 2021 on a deeper engagement with the program, she said.

The Texas Catholic Conference “aggressively” supported the state’s expansion of Medicaid benefits for women who have just given birth, Allmon said. 

Previously, mothers in the state were able to receive Medicaid benefits until their child was 60 days old; that eligibility period has now been expanded to six months.

The previous 60-day limit was problematic, Allmon explained, as many postpartum issues –  especially those related to mental health – do not manifest themselves until at least 60 days after women give birth. Allmon said she hopes to eventually see the six month period extended to one year of coverage, but is still “really grateful” for the current expansion. 

“Our strategy was a holistic strategy at looking at ways to support, of course, unborn life, but also how to help families choose life,” she said. “Medicaid access is a really important part. We also support expansion and improvement of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid expansion in general.” 

Additionally, the most recent state budget passed included a 20% increase for the state’s “Alternatives to Abortion” program, which supports mothers and their families until the child is  three to five years old. 

“The services that are provided are supportive and life affirming, so that women who are facing overwhelming pregnancies know that they are going to have support to parent the child or to place the child for adoption,” said Allmon. “And so that program was funded at a hundred million dollars for the biennium.” 

That money goes, in part, to the Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the state of Texas, which provide services such as parenting classes and counseling, diapers, formula, financial planning, and other necessities for newborn children. Some affiliates use private donations to expand these services until the child is 5 years old. 

“It’s very comprehensive and making sure that families are able to get the support that they need, that’s kind of tailored to their situation,” said Allmon. 

The existence of these programs “destroys the narrative that we’re just about birth, because that’s clearly beyond birth,” she said, calling that narrative “ridiculous,”. 

“Abortion bills are among our top priorities, but not our only priorities.”  

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