Rep. Charlotte Meadows (District 74) has sponsored House Bill 401 (HB401), the Every Mother Matters Act, also known as EMMA.
EMMA seeks to establish the Pregnancy Launch Program, a toll-free number staffed by support professionals to connect women with pregnancy-related resources, including follow-up support and referrals after the birth of a child.
EMMA, first read on Feb 23, was referred to the House of Representatives Committee on Health where it has been pending action. Unfortunately for Meadows, EMMA is not scheduled for a vote in this, the final week of the legislative session, meaning it will have to be reintroduced in next year’s legislative session.
The Health Committee and Meadows are seeking ways to cut the costs of the bill and she is hopeful it will pass in the future.
The idea behind this bill was proposed by the Human Coalition, which partnered with Meadows to draft the bill through the Legislative Services Agency (LSA). They have introduced EMMA in other states as well; it successfully passed in Arkansas last year and is pending in Texas.
“We are doing a real disservice to mothers in a crisis pregnancy in Alabama,’’ Meadows said. “Our laws say we value life, but we don’t really do anything to show support for moms during the period of time when she is faced with making a hard decision to abort her baby. EMMA would come along beside the mother and offer real tangible support to any mother that wants it, and help her with making the best decision for her and the baby given her personal circumstances.”
The Pregnancy Launch Program’s stated goals are to:
Encourage healthy childbirth;
Support childbirth as an alternative to abortion;
Promote family formation;
Aid successful parenting;
Increase families' economic self-sufficiency; and
Improve maternal health, mortality and postpartum outcomes.
The Alabama Department of Public Health would manage the Pregnancy Launch Program and allot funds to contract outside agencies and charities as volunteers for the assistance line. The bill stipulates the use of licensed social workers, nurses, community health workers, licensed professional counselors or other individuals of equivalent experience. Caller confidentiality is ensured, but each agency providing Pregnancy Launch Program services over the phone must keep records and report monthly to the Health Department.
Individuals who call the toll-free line will be offered medically accurate pregnancy-related medical information, assistance in applying for state and federal benefit programs, assistance obtaining pediatric and postpartum care, assistance for abuse, assault, sexual assault, neglect, coercion, human trafficking, and more.
Currently, abortion providers are required to provide a pamphlet of pregnancy-help resources to a woman 48 hours before performing an abortion. But Meadows said, “[The pamphlet] has not been updated in 17 years, and it’s not user-friendly.”
EMMA would require a physician to confirm that a woman has received an assistance offer over the phone before performing an abortion. To enforce this rule, the Health Department will perform random audits of abortion providers each year. Violators are subject to a civil penalty of $5,000.
On March 28th, Health Committee Chair Paul Lee (House District 86) provided a fiscal note which estimated it would cost over $2.3M annually to maintain the toll-free number, staff, and contracts with outside agencies, plus a one-time initial cost of $1.6M to upgrade current systems and launch the program.
On March 30th, Savana Deretich, representing the national nonprofit Students for Life, testified on behalf of their volunteers across Alabama, saying, “I personally know multiple women that have had unplanned pregnancies in college, and it was not pro-abortion people who helped them; it was the life-affirming pregnancy centers and the local churches … women can succeed when her community gathers together to support the mother and save the child.”
EMMA was referred to the House of Representatives Committee on Health where it is now pending action. But the bill has not faced much opposition from either side of the aisle, according to Chelsey Youman, National Legislative Advisor and Texas State Director for the Human Coalition.
Director Youman stated, “Out of all the states we filed EMMA in, it had more bipartisan support in Alabama, because no matter your ideology or political party, everyone can understand that vulnerable women in dire situations need help. I think that’s something we can all get behind.”
With the Supreme Court expected to announce a decision regarding Roe v. Wade in June, supporters of the bill have argued that the timing is critical. HB 401 stipulates that it would go into effect the first of the month following its passage, which would allow for the initiation of the Pregnancy Launch Program this summer.
“The data shows that significant numbers of babies would be saved,” Meadows said, “which makes this imperative to me.”