Health Care

Black Maternal Health Caucus calls for immediate action to address crisis

Leading members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus in both the Senate and the House introduced resolutions this week to nationally recognize Black Maternal Health week in an effort to bring attention to the need to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in Black women and birthing persons. 

Introduced by Democratic Reps. Alma Adams (N.C.) and Lauren Underwood (Ill.), co-founders and co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the resolutions encourage Congress to enact legislation to address racial disparities for Black birthing people, such as policies offering economic support, investing in community-driven solutions to better understand causes of maternal death and complications from birth and increasing access to health care in Black communities.

“The U.S. maternal mortality crisis, especially among Black Americans, requires urgent attention and action,” Booker said. “As the richest country in the world, it is a travesty that our nation continues to top the maternal mortality rate among its peer countries. We must do more to address this crisis and find meaningful solutions that will end the disparities in care that Black people face when giving birth.” 

Black birthing people are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, and Black infants are twice as likely to die within their first year compared to white infants. 

Reasons behind the disparities vary, but experts often point to implicit bias in the medical system that leads to Black patients consistently having their complaints and symptoms dismissed and their pain left undertreated. 

Meanwhile, more than 2.2 million women of childbearing age live in maternity care deserts, or areas where there’s a lack of maternity resources, including hospitals and birth centers offering obstetric care, according to a 2022 report by March of Dimes. According to the report, 16 percent of Black babies were born in areas with limited or no access to maternity services. 

These disparities worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the maternal mortality rate for Black women has increased by 26 percent since the start of the pandemic.

In 2019, Adams and Underwood teamed up to begin addressing these disparities, founding the Black Maternal Health Caucus. Since then, 115 bipartisan members of Congress have joined their effort. 

In 2020, the two introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, a package of 12 bills to address gaps in policy solutions to end the maternal health crisis. Last Congress, the first bill from the package was passed. 

Their latest resolution, which so far has more than 89 co-sponsors, was introduced during Black Maternal Health Week. The week, observed from April 11 to April 17, has been recognized by President Biden to “raise awareness of the state of Black maternal health in the United States by understanding the consequences of institutional racism; recognizing the scope of this problem and the need for urgent solutions; amplifying the voices and experiences of Black women, families, and communities; and committing to building a world in which Black women do not have to fear for their safety, their well-being, their dignity, or their lives before, during, and after pregnancy.”

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance and the March of Dimes have both expressed their support for the latest resolution. 

“It is past time we address the structural racism and inequities in social determinants of health that contribute so significantly to the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity among Black women,” said Stacey Y. Brayboy, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs at March of Dimes.

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance added that the congressional work is even more important as the battle over reproductive rights unfolds around the country. Many have expressed concerns that restrictions to reproductive freedom will disproportionately negatively affect Black women.

“As we reckon with the upending of Roe V. Wade and the relentless attacks against reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, the theme for this year’s Black Maternal Health Week campaign — Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy — speaks to our strength, power and resilience, and our unassailable right to live freely, safely, and joyfully,” said Angela D. Aina, co-founder and executive director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Inc.

Still, Adams and Underwood say there is more work to be done. 

“Our country’s Black maternal health crisis demands urgent action,” Underwood said. “We must continue to elevate Black maternal health as a national priority and pass the entire Momnibus.”

Tags Cory Booker Lauren Underwood

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