Domestic Violence Advocate: “W.O.M.A.N., Inc., how can I help you?”
Caller: “I’m looking for low-income affordable housing programs,” she said in a flat, even tone.
Domestic Violence Advocate: “Could you tell me a little more about your situation so I can better assist you?”
Caller: “I was in a domestic violence situation and I lost my baby after my partner attacked me,” she answered. I miscarried.”
Pregnancy is generally considered to be a joyful time. The expectancy of a new life. A cute little bundle of joy that will bring years of happiness as the baby’s parents watch their child grow. It is a time when life truly shows us what a miracle can be.
Yet, for low-income women, this is a challenging time, when they are unsure if they will be able to receive the proper prenatal care to carry their infant to full term. These babies whose mothers experienced the harmful stressor of deep poverty while pregnant are more likely to suffer poor health and less likely to succeed academically. For domestic violence survivors, such as the woman I spoke with on W.O.M.A.N., Inc.’s 24 hour domestic violence support line, it is a dangerous time, a time they fear for their lives and the lives of their unborn children. Unbeknownst to many, domestic violence often begins or escalates during pregnancy, and domestic violence is more common than any other health problem among women during pregnancy. This may help to explain why the week prior to the call depicted above I received back-to-back calls from women who told me their abuser increased the violence toward them when they were pregnant. And why according to one study, one in six pregnant women reported physical or sexual abuse during pregnancy.
My name is Mariya Taher and for the past four years, I have been working with W.O.M.A.N., Inc. and Asian Women’s Shelter, two nonprofits based in San Francisco, to help domestic violence survivors reclaim their lives. Survivor stories like the ones mentioned above are what led me to seek how to help survivors on a much larger scale. This desire to make system-wide change that can help those affected by domestic violence is what led me and four other women, Maria Caprio, Melodie Krupodin, Nicole Marquez, and Julia Parish to apply to become fellows in the Women’s Foundation of California Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) for the 2013-2014 legislative year. We are now working to pass AB 1579, legislation that would help impoverished pregnant women access prenatal care early on in their pregnancy, and thereby have healthier births and healthier babies.
Our bill is about to be heard in front of the Appropriations Committee of the California Assembly. Please send a letter of support. Your voice matters. By sending a letter of support by Friday, April 18th, you will be sending a message to the Appropriations Committee of the California Assembly, and showing them that this bill is critical to the welfare of women and their children, the future generations of Californians. Fill out the sample letter provided here and send to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by Friday, April 18th!
Details on Assembly Bill 1579 Healthy Babies Act of 2014
Author: Assembly Member Mark Stone, D-Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, and Monterey
Principal Co-Author: Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Culver City
The California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) program provides cash assistance to families with incomes below the federal poverty level. The purpose of CalWORKs is to provide for the well-being of children, address the employment barriers parents may have, and promote job training preparation. In general, only families with children are eligible for CalWORKs benefits. However, a pregnant woman without any eligible children may apply for benefits to begin in the third trimester of her pregnancy in anticipation of the birth of her child. California is in the minority of states that require women to wait until the third trimester to be eligible for federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) grants, the federal program that funds the state’s CalWORKs program.
The delayed-eligibility rule to receive CalWORKs cash aid is over two decades old and fails to take into account the many academic studies showing that instability and stress felt by a pregnant woman can have long-lasting impacts on their own health and the health of their infants and children. AB 1579 would allow these women to access these basic needs grants upon verification of pregnancy instead of waiting until the third trimester.
Why is AB 1579 so important to domestic violence survivors?
This bill is important for all eligible women, but it is of vital importance to domestic violence survivors. For survivors, financial dependence often forces women to remain in abusive relationships, and during pregnancy that financial dependence increases. In the past two years, my agency, W.O.M.A.N., Inc., has received over 4,000 calls on our 24 hour support line from women who have reported financial dependency or financial abuse. The National Survey of Domestic Violence Shelters also reports that 74% of women have stayed with an abusive partner longer because of financial concerns. Without financial assistance, low-income pregnant women have few alternatives and are more likely to endure abuse that could cause long and short-term harm to both themselves and their unborn fetus. In fact, on average, it takes a survivor seven attempts before they are permanently able to leave the relationship.
The combination of domestic violence, which increases levels of stress for pregnant women, and inadequate finances, which prevents women from affording the nutritious food necessary for proper fetal development, often causes women to deliver babies earlier (pre-term) and at lower birth weights.. The cost of medical care for pre-term births is much higher than for full-term births, and the human costs of infant mortality immeasurable. In addition, babies born pre-term need greater care during the first year of their lives. The average first-year medical costs, including inpatient and outpatient care, are about 10 times greater for preterm infants ($32,325) than for term infants ($3,325).
Allowing expectant first time mothers to obtain CalWORKs benefits upon first verification of pregnancy will lessen undue stress by providing some financial support that can eliminate dependence on abusive partners and ensure better health outcomes for their babies.
In addition, gaining access to CalWORKs benefits upon verification of pregnancy would allow women to establish a relationship with a health provider. Repeated contact with health care providers offers women an opportunity to develop trust between the patient and her doctor. Trust is a key factor in a woman’s decision to disclose information about domestic violence. Currently, pregnant women must wait until their third-trimester to access these basic needs grants, thereby delaying the opportunity for a survivor to establish a relationship with their health provider. However, if a survivor was able to access this additional monetary support upon verification of pregnancy, as is the intent of AB 1579, this expectant mother would be able to establish a relationship with their primary care physician much earlier on. Her health care provider could reassure her that no woman deserves to be beaten, sexually abused, or made to suffer emotionally. As one survivor once said, “Compassion is going to open up the door. And when we feel safe and are able to trust, that makes a lot of difference.”