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Hochul proposes paid leave for prenatal care

State would be the first to offer the benefit


Governor Kathy Hochul wants to expand the state’s family-leave benefits by establishing paid prenatal leave, which would help expectant mothers access prenatal medical appointments throughout their pregnancies. If it is enacted, New York would become the first state to offer the benefit.

Experts recommend 13 to 14 prenatal visits throughout pregnancy; nationally, the average woman experiencing an uncomplicated pregnancy has 11 prenatal appointments, studies have shown. Many pregnant women receive late or no prenatal care, in part due to barriers such as lack of health insurance and lengthy appointments that require them to take time off of work. 

Across the state, 8.4 percent of Black mothers and 6.7 percent of Latina mothers received late or no prenatal care in 2020, according to data from the Department of Health. The March of Dimes reported that 14.3 percent of live births in New York in 2021 were to women who began receiving prenatal care during the second trimester, and 5 percent were to women who had late or no prenatal care.

During a preview of her State of the State address, Hochul announced Thursday that she wants to provide 40 hours of paid leave to be used during pregnancy for medical visits in addition to the state’s existing paid family leave plan, which provides 12 weeks of pay to parents who recently gave birth or adopted a baby.

“Our data shows that prenatal care makes all the difference. It improves the odds dramatically of having a healthy pregnancy,” Hochul said during a press conference at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. “So we hope what we're doing here in New York will raise the bar for the rest of the nation.”

Babies whose mothers received no prenatal care are three times more likely to have a low birth weight, and those with a low birth weight or born preterm face an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory problems and other long-term health conditions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women who did not receive prenatal care also died from pregnancy-related complications at a higher rate, a problem that disproportionately affects women of color.

“Black babies are nearly two and a half times more likely to die. A Black woman is three to four times more likely to die in childbirth,” Hochul said. “Now we pride ourselves as a country being so advanced. We have resources. It's shocking. And it demands a response from every level of government.”

The governor’s office noted that public employers would have to opt into the paid prenatal leave plan, as is the case for the state’s paid family-leave benefits. About 80 percent of state employees are currently eligible for paid family leave.

Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, who has sponsored a series of maternal health bills, expressed support for the proposed reforms. In 2016, Bichotte Hermelyn was turned away from a hospital in the city when she was five-and-a-half months pregnant, three centimeters dilated and experiencing contractions. She was admitted at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, where days later she gave birth to a son who died shortly afterward.

“As a survivor of maternal loss, I am committed to working with Governor Kathy Hochul to combat the shocking spike in infant mortality rates that are rising for the first time in decades while disproportionately devastating our Black and minority communities so all mothers and babies can not only survive, but thrive,” she said.

Hochul also unveiled other proposals aimed at improving pregnancy outcomes, including legislation that would make it easier for pregnant people to access doulas, eliminate co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for pregnancy-related benefits in the State of Health's Essential Plan, increased oversight of unnecessary C-sections and training suicide hotline counselors on issues related to postpartum depression. 

“The challenges New Yorkers face during pregnancy are tremendous — from decades of underinvestment in our maternal health infrastructure to unchecked medical biases and unaccommodating workplace policies,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso, who launched a maternal health task force aimed at educating the public about the subject. “I am deeply grateful for Governor Hochul’s bold leadership on this issue at the state level.”


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