Motherhood Report Card For 2016: America Didn't Make The Grade — But There's Still Hope
It's that time of year again — when retrospectives of the year past are as ubiquitous as peppermint mochas. As 2016 draws to a close, you'll have plenty of lists and roundups on everything from the best and worst of entertainment, to the biggest headlines, to the ever depressing "Here's All The Famous People That Died This Year" roll call. But what of motherhood: How was 2016 for moms? The motherhood report card for 2016 showed lots of promise as the year started — but as 2016 progressed, it felt as though things just went further and further off the rails with each passing month.
The bad news: America has earned a solid D on the 2016 Motherhood Report Card. We're just barely not failing — and it certainly hasn't been an A+ banner year for motherhood, either.
Grading 2016 on how it treated moms for the last 12 months is no easy task — so here's exactly how I broke down the grading. I took an overhead look at 2016 through the lens of 10 influential moments with some of the biggest, most important stories affecting moms and the state of American motherhood in general over the course of the past year. Positive versus negative stories were analyzed and percentages assigned to each. As it turns out, 60 percent of the areas we looked at influenced motherhood negatively, thus working out to a solid D grade. But, there might be hope yet when we factored in an "extra credit" assignment. Here's exactly how 2016 measured up for moms.
The Big Win: Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
Without a doubt, this major legal battle became a huge win for moms, families, and reproductive choice in June of 2016, when the Supreme Court struck down Texas abortion restrictions in a 5-3 decision. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia just months earlier, groups on both sides of the court case were worried about how the decision in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt would fall, and mercifully, it fell in favor of protecting women's access to safe, legal, and medically necessary services and procedures.
The Big Loss: Ohio's New 20-Week Abortion Ban
As big of a win as Whole Women's Heath was, there have been plenty of assaults aimed at women's reproductive rights in 2016. According to the Guttmacher Institute's mid-year report, 445 provisions were introduced in 2016 that sought to restrict access to abortion services in just the first half of the year. By July, 46 new abortion restriction provisions were passed across 17 states. (The Guttmacher Institute does not yet have an updated report including the second half of the year.) Of these is Ohio's 20-week abortion ban — one of the most restrictive in the nation — and it was just signed into law by Gov. John Kasich last Tuesday. Mercifully, Kasich vetoed a fetal heartbeat bill that would have outlawed abortions as early as 6 weeks gestation, when a fetal heartbeat can be heard. The ACLU of Ohio has pledged to take the law to court.
The October Surprise: The IVF Ban At The VA Is Lifted
In a moment of shocking clarity, Congress finally voted to lift the ban on the VA from offering IVF services to vets — putting an end to a ridiculous gap in coverage after active duty for almost 24 years. Attached to the 2016 Senate Mil-Con Appropriations Bill, its passage was a welcome sigh of relief to thousands of wounded vets just trying to build their families.
The OMGWTF Shocker: Donald Trump's Presidential Win
Let's not dance around this one any more than we have to: With Donald Trump's victory in November, the next four years don't look that promising for motherhood in America, given his controversial Cabinet picks that threaten to roll back everything from women's rights to the global fight against climate change. It's a good thing that each factor we looked at on this motherhood report card is weighted equally, otherwise Trump alone would have tanked the whole year in review.
Of Course They Do: Congress Intends To Repeal Obamacare
With Trump at the helm of ship with nothing but elephants aboard, Republicans in Washington are practically foaming at the mouth to repeal the Affordable Care Act, known by many as Obamacare. While the Senate does not hold the 60 seats it needs for a full repeal, there's no reason the Republican-led Congress can't chip away at key ACA provisions — such as free birth control pills, preventative care, and other services — that mothers and families have relied on since its passage in 2010.
But Hey, More Companies Are Offering Paid Parental Leave!
Well, this was a breath of fresh air amongst a year fraught with divisiveness: In 2016, several major companies increased their paid parental leave offerings to their employees. Two weeks ago, Ikea announced 16 weeks of paid leave for all of its U.S.-based employees — including hourly. Last week, American Express announced it will offer up to five months of paid leave, along with significant benefits for IVF, adoption, and surrogacy.
Ikea and AmEx are just two of several other companies that rolled out generous paid leave benefits for American workers, including paid leave at 3M and recently, luxury goods group Kering. Financial giants Ernst & Young, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan, and Bank of America each announced increases to their paid parental leave benefits as well, or in Wells Fargo's case, offering it for the first time. Hell, even butter company Land O'Lakes increased its paid leave policy in 2016, too.
The Buzzkill: The Summer Of Zika
Well, if we want to get technical, it was really the winter, spring, and summer of Zika. First, it was Brazil that had mosquitos with Zika and Zika could cause microcephaly in your baby if you were pregnant, so the general warning at the time was simply "Don't go to Brazil." Then it was, yeah, Zika actually causes microcephaly — and a whole host of other issues — and if you're trying to get pregnant, protect yourself from Zika. Then it became something entirely else: Zika can be sexually transmitted, it can stay in your system for months, and now it's in the United States. Zika became more than just a buzzword, but a real health crisis for mothers and those trying to become moms for much of 2016.
If You're Pregnant, Don't Eat... Anything
In 2016, there have been 525 recalls, market withdrawals, and safety alerts since January, according to the FDA website. It seemed as though there was a new food recall every week for much of the first half of the year. Listeria and salmonella were the two big baddies making their way into our foods — both of which can spell disaster for pregnant women. Some of the biggest food recalls this year included things like hot dogs — a dubious food for pregnant women anyway. But others recalls included plenty of foods pregnant women would otherwise find safe, such as frozen veggies, hummus, and even flour.
The Upside: It's Getting Easier To Make Babies
This year saw a number of advances in reproductive medicine: From the successful pregnancies and births from both ovary and uterus transplants, to the increase of women freezing their eggs to get pregnant later, 2016 was definitely a good year for makin' babies — with a little help from science. In China, scientists created functional sperm in a lab dish. In the United Kingdom, "three-parent" IVF just got the green light from fertility industry regulators. If you're having trouble getting pregnant, the options aren't nearly as limited as they once were.
The Deadly: Our Rising Maternal Mortality Rate
There's really no way to put this any more plainly: The United States, as one of the most developed countries in the world, has the highest maternal death rate of all developed nations — and it's on the rise, despite falling in countries over a 15-year span, according to recent research and trends. With all of the medical advancements and resources at our fingertips, it is unacceptable that any woman should die in childbirth in this nation.
The Final Grade: 40 Percent Positive, 60 Percent Negative.
America earned a solid D for motherhood in 2016.
Extra Credit: Moms Rallied In 2016
Hope doesn't have to be lost: There were many bigger stories that dominated the news cycle in 2016 more than others, often overshadowing some amazing stories about moms and motherhood. It's as if instinctively, moms knew this was going to be a craptacular year, and made up for it in their own ways.
In October, mothers from around the Palm Springs, California area collectively donated 500 ounces of frozen breastmilk after new mom — just back from maternity leave — was shot and killed in the line of duty as a police officer. In August, after catastrophic flooding in Louisiana, Save the Children set up child-friendly spaces in the region to assist with children's emotional and developmental needs in the wake of disaster. And just this week, a viral Facebook post — written by a working husband — praises the fact that women need rest, too, and that more men should step up.
This year might have been a difficult year for sure, but this extra credit round gives us hope for what's to come for American motherhood in 2017.