This week, on behalf of International Maternal Health and Rights Day, and in an effort to raise awareness about the alarming Black maternal health crisis, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris and her colleagues introduced a resolution to designate April 11-17, 2018 as Black Maternal Health Week. Senator Harris was joined by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) on this resolution. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black mothers in the U.S. die at a staggering three to four times the rate of white mothers.
“The maternal mortality rate of Black women is a public health crisis that must be addressed,” said Sen. Harris. “We must recognize that Black mothers need more resources and support to ensure their lives are not cut short, and they be able to raise their children to fulfill their potential. The designation of Black Maternal Health week is a step toward the recognition that more must be done to reduce the rate of maternal mortality and morbidity among Black women.”
“No woman should enter the delivery room and not get the care she needs and deserves because of the color of her skin—but the facts are starkly clear that in our country, that is too often a reality and it is one we should all refuse to accept,” said Sen. Murray. “I’m grateful to Senator Harris for her leadership and look forward to continued work together to ensure every mother gets quality care and the chance to watch her children grow up.”
“We know we need to do more to ensure that healthier pregnancies lead to healthier babies throughout African American communities. Unfortunately, minority and underserved populations are still facing a shortage of quality maternity care,” said Sen. Baldwin. “I am proud to join my Senate colleagues in recognizing ‘Black Maternal Health Week’ to bring national attention to this critical maternal health issue and the importance of reducing the rate of maternal mortality and morbidity among Black women. ”
“The maternal mortality rate in our country is tragically high, particularly for black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. More must be done to address this public health crisis and unconscionable disparity. I’m proud to join Senator Harris in calling attention to this issue and introducing this resolution today, and I am committed to continuing to work to prevent maternal deaths,” said Sen. Booker.
“There can be no clearer evidence that comprehensive health services are not reaching everyone who needs them than the reality that African-American women are dying at an alarmingly high rate in our country due to a lack of adequate maternal care,” said Sen. Wyden. “With the Republican agenda of health care discrimination now set to overdrive, it’s more important than ever to ensure our most vulnerable are getting the health care they need.”
“There is simply no excuse for a country with our resources to so dramatically fail black mothers, their children, and their families,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “The United States has the highest rates of maternal mortality in the developed world, and for black mothers, those numbers are even higher. Unacceptable. This is a national crisis, and it deserves an immediate, comprehensive response.”
The bill was also introduced in the House by U.S. Representative Alma Adams (D-NC). Harris and Congresswoman Adams worked closely with Black Mama’s Matter Alliance, a Black women-led, cross-sectorial alliance, to establish this annual week of awareness.
“We believe that every woman needs access to quality and affordable health care to ensure safe pregnancies and births for all women in the U.S., especially Black women,” said Elizabeth Dawes Gay, a member of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance Steering Committee. “However, health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address the systemic racism that contributes to poor maternal health, ensure that Black women are at the center of these conversations, and enact real policy change.”
Harris, her colleagues, Congresswoman Adams, and Black Mama’s Matter chose to raise awareness during National Minority Health Month because the numbers still show a huge disparity in healthcare for Black mothers. The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where rates of illness and death during pregnancy are on the rise. From 2000 to 2013, the U.S. experienced a substantial increase of 26.6 percent in maternal mortality rates. Black women are twice as likely to suffer from severe maternal morbidity than white mothers.