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Federal maternal health bills aim to address racial disparities
Legislation for training and programming
Published Saturday, April 17, 2021 6:06 pm
by Herbert L. White

Two bills introduced in Congress would address racial disparities in maternal health by providing grants and training to alleviate the disproportionate mortality rate among Black mothers.

Two bills introduced by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams aim to address the Black maternal health crisis.

The Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards, or MOMS Act, and the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies, or CARE Act were introduced Saturday, the final day of Black Maternal Health Week. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is the lead in the upper chamber.

The MOMS Act would expand the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health program, which develops standardized maternal safety best practices to prevent maternal mortality and morbidity and would establish a new grant program to provide states and hospitals with the resources and training needed to implement the best practices to prevent maternal death and complications before, during, and after childbirth.

The Maternal CARE Act, which would support states in their work to end preventable morbidity and mortality in maternity care by creating grants for schools educating health workers to create training programs to address implicit bias, especially in obstetrics and gynecology. Another incentivizes maternal health care providers to deliver services to pregnant women and new mothers with the aim of reducing maternal deaths and racial disparities.  

That program is similar to a North Carolina initiative that connects pregnant women, especially low-income or high-risk, to care managers to make births safer.

“Our nation’s health system is failing Black mothers and their children. The maternal mortality epidemic in our community has reached crisis levels and continues to deprive communities of mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and leaders,” Adams, a Charlotte Democrat, said in a statement. “As long as mothers of color continue to suffer from disproportionate rates of mortality and morbidity compared to their white counterparts, the Maternal CARE Act and MOMS Act will help save lives. Women of color continue to suffer from implicit bias, a lack of adequate health care services, and disparate access to culturally competent maternal health education.”

The United States has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, including a disproportionately high rate among Black mothers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 700 American women die annually due to a complication before, during and after childbirth.

Black women are up to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than their white peers, and CDC studies have found that two out of three of all reported deaths were preventable. 

“Black mothers in the United States are facing a public health crisis due to deep systemic racial inequities and Congress has a moral responsibility to act,” Gillibrand said. “Childbirth should be safe for all, but for too many Black mothers navigating prenatal and postpartum care, keeping themselves and their infants safe is a gamble.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists endorses both pieces of legislation as an advancement of health equity.

“The rise in preventable U.S. maternal deaths is a multifactorial problem that will require a variety of thoughtful solutions,” said Maureen G. Phipps, MD, leader of the organization. … “These efforts will go a long way in addressing the maternal mortality crisis in this country.”


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