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In honor of Mother's Day, lawmakers should pass the Momnibus Act
Another Mother's Day is upon us and I can't help but feel that this holiday somehow rings hollow, given the glaring lack of policies and protections we have in America in support of mothers - especially Black mothers. With the additional COVID-19-related risks to health and economic stability and their disproportionate impact on Black women and Black communities, the need for more than platitudes from politicians extolling their purported love of mothers is more critical than ever before.
Fortunately, although the fight is far from over, there is still reason for hope, with women of color in Congress leading the charge for better health care for mothers.
In our country, the richest nation in the world, mothers are dying from birth-related complications at the highest rate in the so-called developed world. The situation is especially dire for Black mothers. Across all socioeconomic and geographic lines, Black women in the U.S. are three to five times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than our white counterparts. This public health crisis is a moral and policy failure that requires public officials to examine - and fix - the many structural and systemic factors that contribute to poor maternal health outcomes for Black women.
More than 700 women die each year in America from pregnancy-related problems or delivery complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many Black women report that no one listens to their concerns during pregnancy and birth, and some have reported verbal mistreatment or neglect during their care. The CDC says many pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, and the agency's Hear Her campaign urges health care providers, family members, friends and others to support pregnant and postpartum women by truly listening when they say something doesn't feel right.
Centering the leadership of Black mothers and women to address and eliminate these disparities is also key to resolving the crisis. Some leaders in Congress have been fighting for critically important policies. A legislative package introduced by Black women leaders provides concrete changes that lawmakers can adopt to begin to support Black mothers. This legislation, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, was first introduced by U.S. Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.), then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus - and it has been reintroduced this year with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and more than 190 organizations backing it, including mine: In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda.
The Momnibus Act is a package of bills that address every aspect of the Black maternal health crisis. It includes legislation that will make critical investments in social determinants of health and community-based organizations working to support Black women; grow and diversify the perinatal workforce so women have culturally competent maternity care; improve maternal health care for incarcerated women; invest in maternal mental health and telehealth services to reach underserved rural populations; and support women veterans.
With each passing day, Black women continue to die at outrageously high rates from preventable, pregnancy-related complications. While some states do better than others, the fact is that Black women in every state are at greater risk for adverse outcomes. This isn't a South v. North or red state v. blue state issue. The high Black maternal mortality and morbidity rate is a national crisis that requires immediate federal action.
The time to pass these bills is now. America must take urgent, serious action to end the crisis that is killing Black women and birthing people. We urge all members of Congress to listen to Black women and vote to pass this lifesaving legislation now. Every day that lawmakers stall the Momnibus bills, more Black women will die.
The politicians who depend on our votes to get their jobs must prioritize passing the Momnibus Act to save our lives. Black women and birthing people demand action and we deserve nothing less. Let's honor Black mothers all year long by saving their lives.
Marcela Howell is president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda. Follow her on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.