“This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the county.”
The number of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. is over two times that of other wealthy nations, according to the Commonwealth Fund—and this rate continues to rise. This issue disproportionately impacts people of color: Black women and pregnant people die at rates three to four times higher than their white counterparts, and they experience 2.3 times the infant mortality rate compared to their white counterparts; Native people are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy; and Hispanic people aren’t far behind. Clearly, women and people of color are suffering from an epidemic.
To address this crisis, on Monday, several members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus unveiled the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021—a legislative package to address the urgent maternal health crisis in the U.S. In the House, the bill was introduced by Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Alma S. Adams (D-N.C.); in the Senate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and other members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus are leading the effort.
“As maternal mortality rates continue to drop around the world, they are rising in the U.S., leaving behind devastated families and children who will grow up never knowing their moms,” said Underwood, co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. “This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the county.”
The bill builds on existing legislation to address every dimension of the maternal health crisis in America comprehensively, expanding health care postpartum and allocating resources to study the social determinants of Black maternal mortality. Endorsed by more than 190 organizations and composed of nine individual bills sponsored by Black Maternal Health Caucus Members, the package includes critical policies that will improve maternal health outcomes and reduce disparities in mortality rates for Black and brown people.
The Act includes 12 prongs to address different components of maternal health, including providing funding to community-based organizations that work to improve maternal health outcomes, improving data collection processes to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis, improving maternal health care for incarcerated mothers, and supporting moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
Angela Aina, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, said in a statement, “By centering Black women-led organizations … this package takes a proactive approach to addressing many of the systematic public health challenges, work force development issues, and everyday experiences of Black birthing persons before, during and after pregnancy. “
“One of the richest countries in the world has one the worst Black maternal health outcomes in the world,” said Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, in support of the Momnibus Act. “This is not only a public health crisis but a moral and policy failure that requires public officials to examine the many structural and systemic factors that contribute to poor maternal health outcomes for Black women and birthing people, while centering the leadership of Black mothers and women to address and eliminate these disparities. … The Momnibus Act would fill existing gaps in legislation to address every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis.”
State-Level Campaigns in Tandem With Federal Momnibus
In tandem with federal legislation, state-level activists and lawmakers have been waging their own battle to ensure the health of pregnant women state by state.
One such statewide campaign, organized by North Carolina-based reproductive health group Action NC, is working to fix the Black maternal health crisis in North Carolina by bringing together Black women and activists to call for policy changes that get at the root of institutional racism in health care, such as comprehensive sex education, STI prevention and care, alternative birthing options, prenatal and pregnancy care, safe and affordable abortion and contraception.
“The introduction of the Momnibus Act in Congress is a major step forward toward improving Black maternal health in the United States,” said Gloria De Los Santos, Durham director of Action NC. “This new legislation also serves as an urgent reminder for lawmakers in the North Carolina legislature to enact policies that address the unique racial health inequities in our state. We applaud North Carolina Congresswoman Alma Adams and the dozens of other co-sponsors of this legislation for pushing to dismantle the barriers to health care that deny Black women the futures we deserve.”
Similarly, reproductive rights advocates from Georgia’s SPARK Reproductive Justice Now coalition have been supporting Black political leaders and working alongside them to pass policies that alleviate health care inequities impacting Black and queer people in the state.
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