A landmark federal bill aiming to put $3 million into research and education about postpartum depression is gathering controversy as it heads to the Senate floor. Advocates of the Melanie Blocker-Stokes Postpartum Depression Research and Care Act (known as the Mother's Act) say it will save the lives of women and finally help develop decent education about a long-dismissed female health problem. Critics say it will cause more women to take pharmaceuticals unnecessarily. But recently the big debate has been not so much about the bill itself as media coverage of the bill.
Last week, Time ran an article about the Mother's Act which featured an interview with a mother who was prescribed Zoloft after giving birth. The drug made things worse, causing her to have violent fantasies.
Time's story ignited the ire of many who argue that the article intentionally left out pro-Mothers Act voices to push an editorial agenda. The ladies on Postpartum Progress, a perinatal health blog founded by a mother who struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her first child, posted an open letter to Time:
"We cannot understand why Time would choose to sensationalize what is a very serious medical issue for hundreds of thousands of women in the United States each year, and to create controversy around the MOTHERS Act, the one and only piece of legislation that would help to systematize support and services that are sorely lacking in so many places throughout our country."
The language is just as heated on the other side of the debate. The top Google hits for "Mothers Act" are opposition sites that argue the bill is no more than a "psycho-pharmaceutical cartel's profit-driven invention of an epidemic of pregnancy-related mental disorders" that will reinforce an image of women as hysterical hypochondriacs.
This is an important and interesting debate, but the line taken by Time and bill critics is misleading. "Should All Mothers Be Screened for Postpartum Depression?" reads the Time headline. The biggest anti-Mother's Act petition website compares the bill to New Jersey law, which mandates universal screening for postpartum depression. But the Mother's Act does not mandate postpartum screening. An early version of the bill did, but after the mandatory screening issue became the most controversial sticking point of the act, legislators redrafted the bill to merely promote "raising awareness" of screening and developing better diagnosis techniques. But critics are still keying in on the vanished "mandatory" language and running with it.
Only nine congressional representatives (all men, all Republicans) voted against the Mother's Act in the House. No doubt the debate will continue in the Senate (and the doctor's office).