It’s time to bridge maternal health care and racial justice to save more Black lives.
During my very first week as a state legislator, advocates gave a presentation to all of us new lawmakers about the devastating impact of structural racism on the health of Black moms and their babies. I was only one of two Black women in the room, and I quickly realized that what they were telling me was that simply because I am Black, I had a greater chance of dying from childbirth.
I listened as the presenter listed off all the zip codes in Massachusetts with troubling Black maternal outcomes—and six out of 10 of them were in my district. At that moment, a chill went down my spine: I knew right then and there that as a Black woman in the state legislature, I could not walk out of the state house without making Black maternal health care my issue.
I made a commitment that day that I was going to work with everyone possible to save more Black women and babies. I want to be a mother one day, and there are too many women of color in this state who have and will suffer in childbirth because of structural racism in health care. My fight is centering the voices of Black Moms, women, families and stakeholders in the maternal health space.
Reproductive justice is racial justice; we cannot do this work in silos. Our response to stark racial inequities in maternal health must start with policy solutions that center and place anti-racism at the forefront. Legislatures were not designed to center Black women—they were designed to exclude us. I am working to change that in Massachusetts.
I filed legislation to create a commission to study maternal health—everything from places to receive care, quality of that care, prenatal and postpartum services—and made sure that the study centered on and included Black women every step of the way. By the end of my first session, my bill unanimously passed.
When Massachusetts elected four Black women to its delegation in 2018, it was historic, but the state overall remains quite conservative. Massachusetts is a pinnacle in regard to studying life sciences. We have some of the best educational institutions like Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, we have the best public health care system of any state—and yet, Black women are dying at twice the rate of white women. Black babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthdays.
This session, I will continue the maternal justice fight. I’ve filed legislation to ensure our state’s medicaid agency covers the use of doula services and extends postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months, as well as legislation to empower our local boards of health and local health institutions to study and review infant mortality in our communities.
The data we’re seeing from previous state mortality reviews tells us that whatever your education level, however much money you make in a year, or wherever you live, as a Black woman, your health and maternal care will be impacted.
To this day, I carry with me two important takeaways from that first week—every issue is a women’s issue and that maternal care for Black women is a public health crisis and racial justice issue.
It is critical that state legislatures—both here in Massachusetts and across the country—pay attention and take action. Black women need the opportunity to live full and abundant lives, and I am so proud to say that I’m leading the effort that will make sure that happens for us here in Massachusetts. It’s time to bridge maternal health care and racial justice to save more Black lives.