A group of lawmakers led by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Lauren Underwood have announced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, a law they hope will address the country's abnormally high maternal mortality rate.
The act is comprised of 12 smaller bills that seek to "comprehensively address the drivers of the maternal health crisis" by investing in community-based healthcare organizations, addressing the social trends that affect Black women's health, diversifying the perinatal workforce and improving data collection, according to a statement from Booker.
It also seeks to tackle other issues that affect maternal and infant health care among Black women, like climate change and COVID-19.
"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," said Underwood, co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus.
"I’m leading the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act with Representative Alma Adams, Sen. Cory Booker, and other Members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus because 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,” she added.
The United States continues to be one of the most dangerous countries for Black women to give birth, with the worst maternal death rate of any developed country. More than 700 mothers die from complications during births and 50,000 become severely injured each year.
"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. As the pandemic rages on, access to quality maternal care has decreased as the barriers to receiving care have increased," Rep. Alma Adams said in a statement.
The Center For Disease Control recently released a report that found Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die during childbirth. They added that three out of every five deaths that occurred during childbirth were preventable.
"While maternal mortality rates are decreasing in every other country around the world, its increasing in the United States driven by the increase in Black maternal deaths. This is a problem with solutions and I've been excited to be able to be a leading voice in congress to help save our moms lives," Underwood told Blavity News in an interview about the law.
“As the rest of the world works to improve maternal health outcomes, skyrocketing maternal mortality rates here in the United States are precipitating a public health crisis — one that puts mothers of color, especially at risk. We simply cannot continue to accept this alarming status quo," Booker said in a statement.
Booker and Underwood released a document that explained the specifics of the act, which is broken up into 12 different sections. The first pledges to push investment into housing, transportation, nutrition and other social factors that affect the maternal death rate.
In addition to funding community organizations and collecting more data on maternal health risks, the act mentions the need for a more diverse set of nurses and doctors helping with childbirth.
Blavity previously reported on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found newborn Black babies were more likely to survive if delivered by Black doctors. From the data, researchers found that Black newborns died at three times the rate of white newborns overall and that the numbers change significantly based on the race of the doctor delivering the child.
"Empirically, this study provides evidence that the Black-White newborn mortality gap is smaller when Black doctors provide care for Black newborns than when White doctors do — lending support to research that examines the importance of racial concordance in addressing health care disparities," the study said.
The act also calls for more help to be provided to support mothers with mental health conditions, substance use disorders and those who are incarcerated. Funding is also provided for telehealth services that would be able to help underserved areas.
Part of the act has vague references to the promotion of "innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and continuity of insurance coverage from pregnancy through labor and delivery and up to one year postpartum."
The act has the backing of Sens. Tammy Duckworth, Kirsten Gillibrand, Dick Durbin, Tim Kaine, Jeff Merkley, Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith. Dozens of House members have signed on to the bill as well.
Multiple health care organizations have come out in support of the bill as well, including the Association of Black Cardiologists, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Center for American Progress, Centering Healthcare Institute and the National Organization for Women.
“Black and brown mothers have been suffering at the hands of an inequitable American health care system for centuries, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made this painful fact clearer than ever. This is a crisis we cannot ignore a moment longer, and the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act will begin the work of closing the maternal health care gap and getting all moms the medical care they need and deserve,” said Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women.