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The U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis Demands Action—From All Of Us

Rep. Alma Adams (left), Rep. Lauren Underwood (center), AND Vice President Kamala Harris

A maternal death is a tragedy. A preventable maternal death is an outrage. The prevalence of maternal deaths in the United States—and the unacceptable racial and ethnic disparities in mortality rates—is a public health crisis that demands urgent action.

As Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Native American Caucus, Hispanic Caucus and Asian Pacific American Caucus, we are proud to represent the vibrant diversity of our constituents and our nation. But we know that for many mothers in America, the color of their skin, their ethnicity and their income often dictate the quality of the maternal care they receive, their health outcomes and the health of their babies. Black women in the United States die from pregnancy-related causes at three to four times the rate of their white counterparts. Native Americans are more than twice as likely to die giving birth. One study found that in New York City, Hispanic people experienced severe maternal morbidity at 1.8 times the rate of non-Hispanic white women. Other research has shown that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have higher rates of maternal mortality during hospitalization for delivery, even after accounting for other factors that affect outcomes.

There is no reason why the wealthiest nation on earth should have the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world or why that rate that is still rising—and yet that is the reality we face. But survival alone should not be the measure of success for childbirth: We have come to a moment of reckoning that requires us to reach higher and demand more. Maternal health justice means an elimination of not only the glaring racial and ethnic disparities in rates of adverse perinatal outcomes. but of the systemic racism itself that underlies those disturbing trends.

That is why we joined together to introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, a sweeping package of 12 bills that builds on existing maternal health legislation to comprehensively address our nation’s maternal mortality crisis, help end racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes and advance maternal health equity and justice for all.

From investments in community-based organizations to protections against climate change-related risks affecting moms and babies, the Momnibus tackles clinical and non-clinical factors that affect maternal health outcomes. The legislation addresses social determinants of health, such as access to housing and nutrition, provides support to new moms with mental health conditions and substance use disorders and helps safeguard maternal health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These policies and others throughout the Momnibus reflect our shared values and our common belief in the inherent dignity of every birthing person in the United States. We stand united in our pursuit of legislation that would help ensure fewer children grow up in the United States without mothers and that no mother has to go through pregnancy, labor and delivery or the postpartum period without the respectful, culturally congruent care and support they need and deserve.

This article was written by Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12), Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.).