Zonta International is a global organization of women and men dedicated to empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy. The Zonta USA Advocacy Action Center is a tool for our members in the United States and other individuals who share our commitment to gender equality to take action to improve the lives of women and girls. With your help, we can make a difference. In addition to the actions below, click here to support our joint efforts with UNICEF USA to end child marriage in the United States.
Birth centers—free-standing health care facilities for childbirth where care is provided through the midwifery model—provide high-quality health care for mothers and babies in a cost-effective way. The Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns study, which took place from 2013 to 2017, found that birth centers resulted in lower rates of preterm birth and low birth weight, lower rates of cesarean section, which is associated with improved maternal and infant outcomes, and cost savings of $2,000 per mother-infant pair.
When mothers receive insufficient prenatal care, their babies are at a higher risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, infections and chronic health problems later in life. Preterm birth and low birth weight and maternal pregnancy complications were two of the five leading causes of infant death in 2018. Strong Start demonstrated that birth center care has a larger potential impact on the reduction of preterm birth risk than any other recent medical or public health intervention.
The bipartisan Birth Access Benefiting Improved Essential Facility Services Act, or BABIES Act (S.1716 and H.R.3337), uses the lessons learned from the Strong Start program to build on the birth center model by creating a demonstration program that allows up to six states to participate through their Medicaid programs for four years. Specifically, this bill requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to:
- Establish a Medicaid demonstration program to improve free-standing birth center services for women with low-risk pregnancies.
- Publish criteria for free-standing birth centers to participate in the program, including specified accreditation, licensure and service requirements.
- Publish guidance for states to establish prospective payment systems under Medicaid for program participants.
- Award planning grants for states to develop program proposals.
In May 2021, Senator Ben Ray Luján [D-N.M.] introduced S.1716 in the Senate and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark [D-MA] and Representatives Lucille Roybal Allard [D-CA], Ashley Hinson [R-IA], and Jaime Herrera Beutler [R-WA] introduced a corresponding bill, H.R.3337, in the House of Representatives. Please use our pre-drafted letters to urge your senators and representative to co-sponsor and support the BABIES Act. If they have already sponsored or co-sponsored the bill, you can send a message of thanks.