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Congress Must Pass The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 Now

Yale Public Health Magazine, Focus: Spring 2022
by Jon Andre Sabio Parrilla


Today in America, Black and Indigenous pregnant women are dying at an alarming rate because of neglect by our health care system. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black and Indigenous women are two to three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as white women. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, led by U.S. Reps. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) and Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), is our opportunity to address the disparities Black and Indigenous women 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. 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 health care women to women who are veterans or who are incarcerated.

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 to improve maternal and child health outcomes. And in 2021, the United States led the industrialized world in maternal mortality. This is simply unacceptable. This country is not living up to its 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 systemic 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 women experience due to COVID-19. The legislation would invest in the development of maternal vaccinations and also tackle the increased mental health burdens women experience during pregnancy and postpartum.

However, when the pandemic 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 woman’s chance of having a healthy pregnancy.

The simple truth is that the majority of the deaths of pregnant women of color are preventable.

Controlling for socioeconomic status and educational status, race still plays an integral role in shaping health outcomes for Black and Indigenous moms. The pregnancy complications that 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 health care system was designed not to believe Black women. Even the medical school curriculum today reproduces racist, discriminatory behaviors against Black women. These health disparities that 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 would 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 that 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 pregnant women get to their appointments and check-ups with their doctors.

This legislation isn’t just throwing money at a problem. It’s a comprehensive package informed by data and evidence. It also is, admittedly, a huge government expenditure. But maternal mortality deserves a whole of government and whole of society response. Though fiscally conservative opponents of this bill may argue that the government should not increase spending, it is 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 well-being 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 the Momnibus Act is our once-in-a-generation chance to put an end to the maternal health crisis in America.

Jon Andre Sabio Parrilla is a first-year YSPH student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

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