We Must Advance Maternal Health Equity in the Build Back Better Act

In America, every family has a right to thrive. And that principle begins with a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth.

Rep. Lauren Underwood and President Joe Biden hosted a town hall on the American Families Plan on July 7 at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake, Ill. (Instagram)

The Build Back Better Act is a once-in-generation opportunity to create jobs, cut taxes and lower costs for families across the country by ensuring that corporate bad actors and the wealthiest multimillionaires pay their fair share. This historic legislation includes critical investments that uphold a fundamental principle: that in America, every family has a right to thrive. And that principle begins with a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth.

Currently, the United States ranks last among high-income countries for maternal health outcomes. While pregnancy-related mortality rates are dropping around the world, they are rising in our country. There are stark racial and ethnic disparities as well: maternal mortality rates for Black and Native Americans are 2-4 times higher than rates for white Americans, and research has shown that maternal mortality and morbidity rates are elevated for Hispanic and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people.

These data are alarming and the stories behind the statistics are tragic. But this is not a crisis without hope, or a problem without solutions. In fact, there are community-based initiatives across the country that are not just saving lives; they’re promoting true maternal health justice.

By scaling these programs and investing in the organizations doing the hard and necessary work to promote birth equity, we can end our nation’s maternal health crisis and ensure every American has access to the high-quality care and robust support they need during and after pregnancy—and that’s just what the Build Back Better Act will do.

The legislation includes comprehensive investments from the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, including funding to address social determinants of maternal health, investments to grow and diversify the perinatal workforce, and resources specifically for community-based organizations and maternal mental health equity grant programs. The Build Back Better Act also includes an evidence-based mandatory provision that will make federal funds permanently available for states to spend on expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year in every state.

In the coming days and weeks, as debates about the Build Back Better Act continue, it is imperative that we prioritize these maternal health investments that mothers, babies, and families are counting on.

There have been too many alarming statistics, too many devastating stories of loss, to wait another second. Together, we can save moms’ lives, end racial and ethnic maternal health disparities, and ensure that in the United States of America, every family can thrive.

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Rep. Lauren Underwood is a registered nurse who serves as the U.S. representative for Illinois's 14th congressional district.