Democrat Amanda Cappelletti feels her Republican colleagues are viewing issues such as maternity leave on a more personal level now that she is about to become the first state senator to give birth while in office.
State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti is about to make history. In March, the Montgomery County Democrat will become the first senator in the history of the Pennsylvania legislature to give birth while in office. While jokes about Cappelletti’s “bipartisan baby” have been thrown across the aisle, her first child might well be a bundle of joy for all Pennsylvanians.
Cappelletti, 36, said her pregnancy and her openness about her previous miscarriages has helped to create more human connections between herself and her Republican colleagues, something everyone benefits from. When you humanize each other, she said, it makes both sides more willing to work together and compromise on every issue.
“Being open in both my struggle to get to this point and what’s going on now, it’s created some real human connections with my colleagues,” Cappelletti said. “Whether it’s a personal story or it’s a friend, everybody is connected to these issues in some way and are seeing these problems in some way. The more we connect on a more personal level, the easier it becomes to have dialogue about why this policy over that policy.
“I really truly believe that on some level, the diversity of what is happening and how we are changing the experiences of people who serve in the Senate will result in better policies for all Pennsylvanians.”
Cappelletti is serving in a state legislature that is more diverse than ever. In the current legislative session, there are a total of 79 women serving in both chambers — about 31% of the legislature — the most ever for the commonwealth. Pennsylvania now ranks 29th in the nation in terms of female representation, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
That wasn’t always the case. Up through 2018, Pennsylvania ranked in the bottom 12. But a recent Democratic wave helped to bring the single largest year-over-year increase in women lawmakers, doubling the number of women serving in 2010.
Cappelletti has been a vocal advocate for reproductive rights and maternal health, using her personal experience suffering two miscarriages to illustrate the importance of abortion access during a heated debate last year. She also publicly supported the Wolf administration’s decision to expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum depression last April, and, in November 2021, she introduced a bill that would have guaranteed fertility care be covered in the commonwealth’s health care insurance policies. The bill never made it out of committee. Currently, she’s working on legislation to mandate three sick days following a miscarriage.
As an expectant mother, Cappelletti feels her personal experiences have helped her to connect with all her fellow senators, both Democrat and Republican, paving the way for better working relationships.
“It helps to create those moments of ‘We are human beings and we can still find a connection to celebrate each other’s life moments,’ Cappelletti said. And when you start to humanize people like that it becomes easier to say, ‘OK, where is the compromise.’”
Cappelletti said her bipartisan baby is helping to raise awareness among her Senate colleagues on three issues in particular:
Maternity Care Deserts
Over 193,000 Pennsylvanians live in what are known as maternity care deserts, counties with a significant lack of maternal health care. While Cappelletti lives in a part of Montgomery County where she doesn’t have an issue with accessing care, she isn’t blind to the plight of those who do and is even more empathetic since getting pregnant.
“I grew up in Boyertown, not far from Pottstown,” Cappelletti said. “Tower Health pulled labor and delivery from Pottstown Hospital. That’s where I was born. I’m thinking in my head, ‘Where do people go then that live there? Where’s the next closest place?’ They are forced to make significantly longer drives to access care. I have a lot of empathy for what people are going through and I want to work towards fixing that.”
Cappelletti said Democratic lawmakers are working together to figure out how to hold the healthcare systems accountable for issues such as lack of care. While it’s disturbing to see maternity care deserts in suburban and urban areas, it is something that has been a long standing problem for people who live in more rural settings of the state.
“It is a big lift to ask somebody to go 50, 75 miles away from home because there is no other hospital that can handle the care that they need,” Cappelletti said.
As the first state senator to give birth while in office, Cappelletti’s pregnancy presents scenarios lawmakers have never had to deal with before.
Cappelletti offered time off after giving birth and breast pumping as examples of the things that now need to be addressed in the Senate rules, and not just through policy decisions that govern others.
“I am incredibly lucky in that colleagues from both sides of the aisle are working together to acknowledge that this is a new and changing Senate,” she said. “They have been working together to make sure I am able to take the leave that I need to be with my family. There are instances where I will want or need to participate in the legislative process, whatever that may look like, and that I am able and available to do that.
“I think about these things and want to work on legislation specific to these issues for all the citizens of the commonwealth. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. This will positively impact everyone if we can better address the needs and issues for expectant parents in the state.”
Cappelletti has always been incredibly passionate about the need for affordable, high quality child care that is accessible to all. She has experience working for Child Care Aware of America and for the Office of Child Development and Early Learning.
While it’s a little early for Cappelletti to worry about child care, she said it’s important that lawmakers ensure there are enough high-quality pre-K teachers who are paid well in the state, citing the benefits of investing in the future generation. Cappelletti is hoping child care is another area where her personal experience and renewed connection with her fellow Republican senators will help to reach a compromise.
“Studies show that when you invest in high quality childcare for children of all socioeconomic backgrounds that the outcomes are just a net positive,” Cappelletti said. “So, it’s just about figuring out how we make that cultural shift here in Pennsylvania and the United States. Somehow, it’s not quite resonating with people just how important it is.”
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