By Dora Muhammad, Congregation Engagement Director, Health Equity Program Manager, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy —

In several days, Christians will culminate the holy observance of Advent in celebration of the birth of baby Jesus. Believers herald his mother, Mary, with bountiful joy. This season resonates with the honor bestowed upon mothers in a Muslim hadith I heard much growing up.

As the story is recorded, a man asked Prophet Muhammad, “Who among the people is most deserving of my good company.” He said, “Thy mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” He said, “Thy mother.” The man asked again, “Then who?” He said, “Thy mother.” The man asked, “Then who?” Then the Prophet said, “Thy father.”

There is serendipity I sense in recharging our PUSH campaign for prenatal care for all mothers during the week of Christmas because the Nativity story is essentially one of maternal health.

In early November, the Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) submitted a 2021 budget request to Governor Northam to fund the enactment of a federal provision that would extend Medicaid/FAMIS MOMS coverage to undocumented women. The excitement about the possibility that the budget amendment we introduced in the 2020 General Assembly and championed through our PUSH campaign during the summer and fall would be in the Governor’s 2021 budget was immense.

But the support of DMAS for our budget amendment was evidently not sufficient because it was not included in the Governor’s budget released last week. The $2.3 million in savings and $7.3 million in revenue due to new federal funding to the Commonwealth was evidently not sufficient either.

My disappointment was compounded because I immediately saw the faces of the women who I screened for eligibility during our Medicaid application assistance events since 2018 and had to inform them that they did not qualify due to their immigration status. They are among the most vulnerable, marginalized, and excluded from state provisions of prenatal care services to immigrant expectant mothers.

This budget amendment is a fundamental step to eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality rates in Virginia. It will benefit an estimated 1,000 expectant mothers. I do not have photos of their faces to share but I can share the face of my mother as a 28-year-old immigrant from the Caribbean holding me at three months old. I know her yearnings. I know her fears. I know her prayers. I know her dreams. They shaped me while I grew in her womb. I am born of them and they inform my push for prenatal care for all mothers in Virginia.

If dollar figures were not sufficient to get our budget amendment in the Governor’s proposed budget, the faces of these women should be sufficient to push legislators to include it in the final budget.

Are there 1,000 people in Virginia who will join our push to urge our legislators to erase the margins for these women? Are there 1,000 clergy in Virginia who will lead the push in their congregations by signing our letter to tell legislators that all women should be able to give birth and live to tell it?

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