Compared to other high-income countries, the United States has an abysmal maternal mortality rate (it’s actually worse than it was 25 years ago) and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than white women, irrespective of income or education.
Black maternal health care has already emerged as an important issue in the 2020 presidential campaign, with candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Kamala Harris speaking out on the epidemic in op-eds and on social media. Harris also plans to tackle racial disparities in maternal health through the reintroduction of her bill Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (Maternal CARE) Act, her spokesperson confirmed to ELLE.com.
“We cannot ignore the Black maternal health crisis that is happening in this country,” Harris told ELLE.com. “Every day we wait and don’t address this issue is another day we allow more mothers to be at risk. This legislation is a critical step toward protecting mothers, and understanding that a healthy mom means a healthier baby, community, and society.”
The 2019 Maternal CARE Act creates a $25 million grant program to fight racial bias in maternal health care through training programs and medical schools, and allocates $125 million to identify high-risk pregnancies and provide mothers with the culturally competent care and any resources they need.
Harris first introduced the Maternal CARE Act in 2018, but the bill did not receive a vote prior to the end of the 115th Congress, which ended in December. It similarly proposed training programs and addressed the disproportionate number of deaths among minority women, which is not ameliorated by social status or education, and can’t be explained away by factors like genetics or lack of access to health care. According to The New York Times, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, has recently acknowledged racial bias within the health care system contributes to the disparity in death rates.
The CARE Act of 2019 will ensure funds are allocated to training programs aimed at reducing bias resulting from implicit attitudes or stereotypes. It differs from last year’s legislation in that it clarifies that “the training should be an on-going effort,” a spokesperson for Harris confirms to ELLE.com.
The bill is led in the House by Rep. Alma Adams, who, along with Rep. Lauren Underwood, announced last month the formation of a Black Maternal Health Caucus to assist in developing policies that combat the shockingly high black maternal death rate.
“[It’s heartbreaking] and this can happen to anybody,” Underwood told ELLE.com at the time, “because the factors that would protect other women, like being highly educated, a high income, living in a safe neighborhood, going to prenatal appointments, having health insurance, all of these different things do not protect black women the same way they do other groups.”
The new Maternal CARE Act has also garnered support from several national women’s organizations, including Planned Parenthood Federation and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.