Ostrich In-depth: All Mothers Deserve a Healthy Pregnancy, All Children Deserve a Healthy Start

9 Sep

Dear readers – We are excited to launch The Ostrich Egg, the guest contributor section of The Curious Ostrich.  Despite regular coverage of immigration laws and issues, rarely does the media discuss how immigration, immigration-related policies or xenophobia affect the health of immigrants and our nation.  Keep your head up on these important issues through The Ostrich Egg. 

By Pamela Mejía

An undocumented Nebraska woman recently sued the state for medical care for her unborn child, arguing that her immigration status shouldn’t affect her child’s right to care. Though the case has important implications for abortion rights activists on both sides of the debate, public health advocates are also concerned about the implications for public health policy and practice.

Our policy makers seem to understand the need for good nutrition and health care during infancy and early childhood to shape the health of the next generation — for example, the Obama administration has encouraged American women to breastfeed their children, among other initiatives. But prenatal care is also critical for ensuring good birth outcomes for all children. Nebraska is just one state that has eliminated prenatal coverage for undocumented immigrants, resulting in increased rates of in utero death compared to years past. This policy, and the anti-immigrant sentiment it exemplifies, has more insidious effects that don’t receive media attention. For example, what fear and anxiety must undocumented women struggle with when they are forced to choose between the health of their unborn child and revealing their immigration status? How can the public health community even begin to imagine the long term effects of this anxiety on these women, and their children?

A healthy future begins with healthy children. All children deserve a healthy start in life.  To have this healthy start, all parents deserve the right to access the resources that will support them to nurture their children.  Public health advocates, and indeed anyone who cares about healthy children, healthy families, and healthy communities should encourage their legislators to support prenatal care for all women. Legislators should also continue to provide adequate funding for programs like the Women, Infants and Children Special Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC), which provides prenatal services regardless of the immigration status of its clients. On a local level, the community-based programs (like La Clinica de la Raza in Oakland and One World Community Health Centers in Omaha) that provide our most vulnerable women and children with vital care need our continuing support.

Pamela Mejía worked for several years for the Alameda County WIC Program, and now researches how the media frames public health problems for the Berkeley Media Studies Group. She is particularly interested in the health and social issues that affect pregnant women, new mothers, and young children — especially since, as of March 2011, she’s the new mother of a little girl!


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