Gov. Tate Reeves speaking at the Neshoba County Fair on Thursday, July 28, 2022. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves on Thursday reiterated that he really wants to help more mothers and babies. After all, it’s just the right thing to do after the post-Roe abortion ban in Mississippi, what with our third-world levels of infant and maternal mortality.

But he’s not sure spending $7 million — to draw down tens of millions of federal dollars — to provide thousands of mothers with 12 months of postpartum health care instead of 60 days would help them. He needs more data, more study of the issue.

But providing $10 million in tax credits for crisis pregnancy centers that provide no real health care but counsel women not to get abortions (even though they’re banned now anyway) and gives them diapers — well apparently that would be money well spent. It’s unclear what data shows that.

So, to recap: It’s unclear whether providing health care to mothers would help their health. But tax breaks for affluent people to help anti-abortion counseling centers would.

Asked his stance on extending postpartum coverage on Thursday, Reeves, who could extend postpartum coverage himself with the stroke of a pen, said: “What I’ve said repeatedly on postpartum Medicaid expansion is, No. 1, I’m proud to be the governor of the state of Mississippi that overturned Roe v. Wade. Mississippi is a pro-life state and we stepped up.

“I’ve also said that we as a state have to move to the next phase of the pro-life movement, and that’s ensuring that we support moms and babies,” Reeves said. “That’s a stated goal that is not going to be easy and it’s not going to be free.

“The postpartum Medicaid expansion what I’ve said in the past and continue to say today is the data is incomplete at best … I think it’s something that they’re working on in the Legislature and I think they should continue to work on it. We don’t have great data … So again that’s an issue we’re continuing to work on and I continue to be very interested in the issue because I do want to make sure we go above and beyond in our attempts to support moms and babies, because we know that we are going to in the absence of Roe v. Wade have more babies born in our state which I think is a wonderful thing and a beautiful thing and we’ve got to look for a number of ways in which to support them.”

That’s not exactly the clearest stance on an issue that’s been front-and-center in Mississippi politics for nearly two years.

Both Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, who has blocked passage of extended postpartum care numerous times after the state Senate has passed it, say they need more data, more empirical evidence that it helps mothers.

But experts have said such data doesn’t exist yet. It will likely be several years before it’s collected and disseminated. That’s sort of the nature of such data.

There is data from 2017 through 2019, from the Mississippi Department of Health, that shows the state’s maternal mortality rate — already one of the highest in America — is worsening.

But it would take a leap of faith to craft policy on the theorem that providing more health care would help mothers’ health.

One national expert recently noted that basing health policy only on mortality numbers might be a bit myopic, saying, “There’s a lot more to maternal health than, ‘Did you die?'”

Reeves on Thursday made his continued support for pregnancy crisis centers clear, even if his stance on postpartum health care for mothers is not. He did not cite any data on how the centers impact health outcomes.

“One of the reasons I am very supportive and have proposed along with Speaker Gunn the additional money for the pregnancy crisis centers is many of those pregnancy crisis centers really do have individuals, if someone has an unwanted pregnancy they have individuals at these pregnancy crisis centers that will help coach them through the process.”

Reeves did not cite any data that shows coaches produce better health outcomes than doctors.

In a recent Mississippi Public Broadcasting article, the director of one of those crisis pregnancy centers detailed ways they help expectant mothers.

We’ve had clients say, ‘I don’t want to have a baby because of the cost,’” he said. “We’re like, ‘But do you know about Medicaid?’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, what is that?’”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.