For women of color, pregnancy and childbirth are often a matter of life and death. The risk of death from pregnancy-related causes for black women is three to four times higher than for women of other races. It’s something California Senator Kamala Harris has been vocal about in the past. And she’s pushing to make sure this maternal mortality crisis is being recognized and rectified through new legislation, as well.
Harris (along with 13 Democratic colleagues) introduced a bill Wednesday that she hopes will help lessen the discrepancies in treatment. The Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act would create two grant programs. One will address implicit bias based on stereotypes by supporting special training programs in medical, nursing, and other training schools. The other will incentivize maternal health care providers to offer integrated health care services to pregnant women and new mothers and reduce adverse maternal health outcomes, maternal deaths, and racial health disparities.
“Health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address persistent biases in our health system,” Harris said in a press release.
The maternal health of black women has long been suffered in the dark, but in recent months we’ve heard harrowing stories of pregnancy and childbirth complications from two of the most famous women in the world: Serena Williams and Beyoncé.
Williams has been incredibly open about her emergency C-section, followed by blood clots in her lungs that threatened her life and required further surgery. And the intensely private Beyoncé revealed in Vogue‘s September issue that she had been on bed rest prior to the birth of twins Rumi and Sir due to toxemia (or preeclampsia) which causes swelling and hypertension. She, too, required an emergency C-section as her life, and the lives of her twins, were at risk.
For Harris, the bill is a continuation of her fight to bring black women’s maternal health care front and center. Earlier this year, she introduced a resolution to designate April 11-17 Black Maternal Health Week.
According to the CDC, the cause of an increase of pregnancy-related mortalities in America is unclear. For women of color, who face a myriad of health care disparities from access to racial bias perpetuated by stereotypes, the combination has proved life-threatening. Racism, researchers say, is at the center of this crisis.
“For example, even when we take medical history into account, black women are two to three times more like to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women with the same condition. And while maternal mortality rates are certainly greater for poor women than wealthier women, poverty alone can’t explain these disparities either. An analysis of maternal deaths in New York City found that black women who had at least a college degree still had greater mortality rates than white women who had not graduated high school,” obstetrician and gynecologist Jamila Perritt wrote for Glamour after Williams came forward with her childbirth experience.
“The bottom line is, black women are dying wholly preventable deaths.”
The Los Angeles Times notes that Sen. Harris’ bill could face an “uphill battle” given that Republicans currently control Congress and few bills may pass in an election year. Other sponsors of the bill include U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Doug Jones (D-AL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
“This bill is a step towards ensuring that all women have access to culturally competent, holistic care, and to address the implicit biases in our system,” Harris said.