Black Maternal Health Caucus calls for immediate action to address crisis

Prominent members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus in the Senate and House introduced resolutions this week to nationally recognize Black Maternal Health Week in a bid to draw attention to the need to reduce the maternal mortality and morbidity among black women and people giving birth.

Introduced by Democratic Representatives Alma Adams (NC) and Lauren Underwood (Illinois), co-founders and co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, and Sen. Cory Booker (DN.J.), the resolutions urge Congress to pass legislation aimed at combating address racial disparities for people of Black descent, such as policies that provide economic support, investing in community-based solutions to better understand the causes of maternal death and complications from birth, and improving access health care in black communities.

“The maternal mortality crisis in the United States, particularly 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 lead in maternal mortality among its peers. We must do more to address this crisis and find meaningful solutions that end the disparities in care black people face during childbirth.

Black births 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 in their first year as white infants.

The reasons for the disparities vary, but experts often point to an implicit bias in the medical system that leads black patients to routinely have their complaints and symptoms dismissed and their pain left undertreated.

Meanwhile, more than 2.2 million women of reproductive age live in maternity care deserts or areas where maternity resources are lacking, including hospitals and birthing centers offering obstetric care, according to a 2022 report from March of Dimes. According to the report, 16% of black babies are born in areas with limited or no access to maternity services.

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

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

In 2020, the two introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, a set of 12 bills aimed at filling the gaps in policy solutions to end the maternal health crisis. In Congress last, the first bill of the package was passed.

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

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

“It is long overdue that we tackle the structural racism and inequalities in the 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. business in March of Dimes.

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance added that the work of Congress is even more important as the battle for reproductive rights unfolds across the country. Many have expressed concern that restrictions on reproductive freedom will disproportionately negatively affect black women.

“As we come to terms with the overthrow of Roe V. Wade and the relentless attacks on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, this year’s Black Maternal Health Week campaign theme – Our Bodies Belong to Us: restore black self-reliance and joy – speaks to our strength, power and resilience, and our unassailable right to live freely, safely and happily,” said Angela D. Aina, co-founder and executive director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Inc.

Still, Adams and Underwood say there’s still work to be done.

“Our nation’s black maternal health crisis demands urgent action,” Underwood said. “We must continue to make black maternal health a national priority and pass the entire Momnibus.”

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