On March 10, five states held their primaries (Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri and Washington), while North Dakota held their Democratic caucuses. As a first time voter, I made sure to plan out when I was going to stand in line to exercise my right to vote — after attending the Bernie Sanders’ rally on Sunday, I felt even more empowered to let my voice be heard on that day because I had faith in my peers to “fight for someone that they didn’t know”.
But in this spirit of excitement to vote, I couldn’t help but think about what my vote meant today; a topic which was on my mind heavily this election cycle was in regards to what is being done to address the current Black maternal health crisis (while also thinking about access to quality healthcare services that include family planning and reproductive health). Some past potential Democratic presidential candidates such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand have introduced legislation to address this issue.
Numbers do not lie: Black women are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth from pregnancy-related complications than white women; the United States has some of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world. And Black women are twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60% of the 24.6 deaths per 1,000 live births are preventable. These figures have also been adjusted for education and income. Maternal mortality disproportionately affects Black women and should not be taken at face-value — racial health disparities and patient-doctor trust are some of the main factors that contribute to this crisis. The pain Black women may report to their healthcare providers may not be taken seriously or downplayed. Most importantly, the structural systems of racism Black women have to navigate daily in the workplace and public spaces can take a toll on their physical health.
Luckily, a group of legislators acted on this racial health disparity and made history today.
The Black Maternal Health Caucus was created in the United States Congress by Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.) back in April of 2019 to address this crisis; the caucus has grown to hold 75 members. And today these members made history for the future of Black maternal health through the introduction of nine bills to the U.S. House of Representatives – the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020. This Act is a set of comprehensive bills that “aims to fill gaps in existing legislation to improve the health outcomes for Black moms who are dying at three to four more times the rate of their White counterparts.” The goal of these bills center on the care of Black mothers, so that they receive “comprehensive, and culturally-competent care”; Reps. Underwood expressed at a press conference that the Black maternal health crisis is a national priority.
A summary of what the legislation entails can be found on Reps. Lauren Underwood’s website.
Black maternal health is an issue that will have to continue to be addressed in all levels of government as well as in classroom settings centered around Public Health, Policy, Psychology, Women’s Studies and many other disciplines to stir up healthy dialogue. In the meantime, hopefully the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act 2020 will bring real change to how healthcare is provided and create safe spaces in the healthcare industry for Black mothers.