A coalition of Democratic lawmakers unveiled the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 on Monda...
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Lawmakers Continue The Fight For Black Maternal Health With New Legislative Package

The series of 12 bills aims to save the lives of mothers and end racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.

by Morgan Brinlee

Motivated by the 2017 maternal death of a dear friend, Rep. Lauren Underwood has, along with a coalition of Democratic lawmakers, introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 in an effort to combat the health inequalities Black mothers face in the United States. Comprised of 12 bills, the legislative package seeks to address racial disparities in U.S. maternal health outcomes through research, funding, training, and more.

Roughly 700 women die in the United States every year as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown. But not every woman's maternal mortality risk is the same. According to the CDC, "wide racial and ethnic gaps exist" in maternal mortality data for Black women and white and Hispanic women. In fact, Black women are roughly three times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications due to disparities in care and the prevalence of structural racism and implicit biases in the health care system as a whole.

"As maternal mortality rates continue to drop around the world, they are rising in the U.S., leaving behind devastated families and children who will grow up never knowing their moms. This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the county," Rep. Underwood, who lost her friend, Dr. Shalon Irving, shortly after she'd given birth in 2017, said in a statement. "No mother should go through pregnancy, labor and delivery, or the postpartum period without the respectful care and comprehensive support they need and deserve. Together, we can — and must — take the bold actions that will be required to save our moms, end disparities, and achieve true maternal health justice."

On Monday, Underwood joined Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Alma Adams, the Black Maternal Health Caucus, and a number of other Democratic lawmakers in unveiling the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. The legislative package builds on existing legislation and the Momnibus Act of 2020 to more comprehensively address what experts believe to be the drivers of the nation's maternal health crisis.

It includes legislation geared at investing in programs that address social determinants of health such as housing, nutrition, and transportation. The act also includes bills focused on funding community-based organizations currently working to improve maternal health outcomes and growing and diversifying the nation's perinatal workforce. Other legislation within the Momnibus Act pertains to investing in digital tools like telehealth, which could improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas, and investing in federal and community-based initiatives regarding the impact of both COVID and climate change on maternal and infant health.

"As I've said since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disproportionate rate of mortality and morbidity among Black women is a crisis within a crisis," Rep. Adams said in a statement. "Tens of thousands of pregnant people have contracted COVID-19, the vast majority being Black and Brown mothers. As the pandemic rages on, access to quality maternal care has decreased as the barriers to receiving care have increased."

Adams stressed it was imperative that lawmakers ensure all birthing persons have access to high-quality maternity care regardless of their income, location, or skin color. "The Momnibus provides a comprehensive set of policy solutions and a roadmap for addressing maternal health disparities," Adams continued. "Black mamas can’t afford to wait."