Today in America, Black and Indigenous pregnant mothers are dying at an alarming rate because of being neglected by our healthcare system. According to the CDC, Black and Indigenous women are two to three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, led by U.S. Reps. Alma Adams (NC-12) and Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Sen. Cory Booker (NJ), is our opportunity to address the disparities Black and Indigenous moms experience during pregnancy and to invest in the health outcomes of all mothers and babies.
The Momnibus Act is a suite of bills all designed to protect mothers and babies across the country. Some of the benefits include: investing in organizations that are working to improve maternal and child health, improving living conditions to promote better health outcomes for newborns, investing in midwives, doulas, and birthing professionals, and enhancing maternal healthcare for veteran and incarcerated moms.
The simple truth is that the majority of the deaths of pregnant women of color are preventable.
This issue is not new– for decades, advocates have been fighting for improving maternal and child health outcomes. And in 2021, the United States leads the industrialized world of maternal mortality. This is simply unacceptable. This country is not living up to her promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are failing our families, our mothers, our birthing people, and our next generation.
The urgency of passing this bill lies in the fact that the syndemic of COVID-19 and system racism has exacerbated maternal mortality in Black mothers, especially. The bill addresses these health disparities by increasing federal programs to confront unique risks pregnant Black and Indigenous mothers experience due to COVID. The legislation will invest in the development of maternal vaccinations and also tackle the increased mental health burdens mothers experience during pregnancy and post-partum.
However, when COVID is over, the entrenched racist institutions in our society that inform our social determinants of health will still exist. According to recently published data on maternal vulnerability in the U.S., educational status, exposure to poverty, and “access to OB-GYNs and midwives” have a direct impact on a mother’s chance of having a healthy pregnancy.
Controlling socioeconomic status and educational status, race still plays an integral role in shaping health outcomes for Black and Indigenous moms. The pregnancy complications tennis star Serena Williams experienced showed the world that risks during childbirth do not care about fame or money. Black maternal mortality in America is a manifestation of the centuries-long abuse and neglect of Black women in this country. The healthcare system was designed not to believe Black women. Even the medical school curriculum today reproduces racist, discriminatory behaviors against Black women. These health disparities Black women experience are real and must be addressed with urgency. The lives we have lost are far too great.
To address environmental racism that yields negative birth outcomes, the Momnibus bill will invest in reducing air pollution, undertake climate change in impoverished communities, and work to improve the health outcomes of moms and newborns. To contend with the legacy of transportation barriers women of color disproportionately experience, this bill works to partner with the private sector including coordinating with rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to help moms get to their appointments and check-ups with their doctors.
To be sure, this legislation isn’t just throwing money at a problem. This package of comprehensive legislation is informed by data and evidence. Admittedly, this is a huge government response. But maternal mortality deserves a whole of government and whole of society response. Though fiscally conservative opponents of this bill may argue the government should not increase spending, it is well supported by members on both sides of the aisle as well as organizations from both the public and private sectors. The time to act is now.
History will judge America on how it treats its mothers and babies. If we care about the health and wellbeing of moms in our country, we must fight to ensure equity for all mothers because all families deserve the opportunity to lead healthy lives. Mothers and babies are worth fighting for and this is our once-in-a-generation chance to put an end to the maternal health crisis in America.
Jon Andre Sabio Parrilla is a master of public health student at Yale University in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, New Haven.