The XX Factor

Men Should Pay for Maternity Care Because BABIES

Even if you don’t care about women, you should care about babies.

Photo by Marina Dyakonova/iStockphoto/Thinkstock

The Affordable Care Act says that women cannot be charged higher rates for insurance than men are. This has led to predictable carping from Republicans, who think it’s unfair that men are subsidizing services, specifically maternity care, that they will never use. Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic has a good explanation for men about why they should be paying for maternity care: The long-term prosperity of the U.S. depends on healthy citizens, men supply the sperm, it’s just a genetic lottery that made you a man and not a woman, and think of your mother who had to bear you!

But even if you don’t care at all about the women bearing the children, you should care about live human babies that are going to be born regardless of whether their mothers get adequate prenatal care. And really, really bad things happen to babies whose mothers don’t get adequate prenatal care. 

One-third of all American women will have some kind of pregnancy-related complication, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When women don’t get adequate prenatal care, those complications don’t get caught and potentially prevented, which is why babies born to mothers who are low-income and uneducated are more likely to have a low birth weight, which can lead to infant health problems like respiratory distress and bleeding in the brain. It can also lead to lifelong health problems, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, according to the March of Dimes.

Half of these babies will be male babies, by the way. Some of those boys and their sisters who are born prematurely (which is more likely to happen when mothers aren’t getting adequate prenatal care) cost the United States approximately $26 billion annually, according to a 2006 report from the Institute of Medicine. That’s $51,600 per infant born prematurely (thanks, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, for doing that math).

Should we be charging those male babies who were premature more money when they become adults because they cost so much more when they were born? No, because that’s not how insurance works—as Amanda Marcotte pointed out in a post on Tuesday.

What’s more, you can have all the rugged individualist pie-in-the-sky arguments you want about how women are the ones choosing to bear children and men should be able to choose to “opt out” of being dads if they want to—that’s the case a recent piece in Salon made. But if we’re talking about choice here, there are children who didn’t get to choose to be here whose health is in the balance when we have these discussions. And their fate shouldn’t be about political point-scoring. This is one moment where the cliché “think of the children!” actually applies.