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Arkansas lawmakers file bills to expand healthcare for new mothers

House Bill 1006 would expand paid family leave for companies that offer to send women out of state to circumvent Arkansas law to get an abortion.

ARKANSAS, USA — Arkansas lawmakers are already filing bills with the next legislative session more than a month away. With almost all abortions banned in Arkansas after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, one local representative is now focused on maternal health care.

Representative Aaron Pilkington represents District 45 which is all of Johnson County and a little bit of Pope County. Improving health outcomes is something Pilkington was working on before Arkansas’ trigger law went into effect, banning abortions expect to save a mother’s life. Now, he says it’s even more important.

“We're expecting, you know, around 3,000 more births than last year because of this. And so, I think we need to have resources available. We say we're pro-life, we need to put our money where our mouth is and provide that sort of care,” he said.

Pilkington has filed three bills aimed at helping moms. House Bill 1006 would expand paid family leave for companies that offer to send women out of state to circumvent Arkansas law to get an abortion. These companies would be required to provide 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.

The Arkansas House passed HB1006 in mid-February.

Right now, Arkansas does not require paid maternity leave, just the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects the jobs of certain employees.

“If they support a woman's choice, they should support her choice. She chooses to keep that baby. And I've gotten a lot of good reception on the right and the left about this... We would be the first state with an abortion ban that also had a paid family leave bill on the books, which I think is a good thing," Pilkington said.

"I think, you know, we should be supporting more pro-family growth policies... We should make Arkansas the best place to have a child,” he said.

House Bill 1010 would require Medicaid coverage for mothers for one year after giving birth. Right now, Arkansas is one of few states that doesn’t already extend Medicaid out a year after birth, only 60 days.

“I think what we'll see is a lot of women will be able to get the resources they need get paid for. And once again, this is something that I think is ultimately going to save us money because we're going to reduce the amount of ER visits, reduce the amount of infant and mother mortality, which is massive for the state,” he said.

Laura Kellams is the Northwest Arkansas director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. She says almost half of women who give birth in Arkansas each year are insured under Medicaid. Arkansas has some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation.

"If we really want to make a difference in the lives of new mothers, what we can do is ensure that they have the quality medical care that they need in those months following delivery, and all the way through that first year. And that's when we really need to make sure that their needs are being met,” Kellams said.

Pilkington also filed House Bill 1011 which would require Medicaid coverage and reimbursement for pregnant women's depression screening. He says they’ve noticed there is a high number of postpartum depression in Arkansas as well as depression during pregnancy.

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