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There has been an increased focus on public policies to improve maternal health and equity, with recent data showing the severity of maternal mortality. The maternal mortality rates in the United States are among the highest in the industrialized world. Maternal mortality rates among Black and Native American and Alaska Natives are two to four times higher than the rate for white Americans, regardless of their income or education levels. Hispanic and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) people also have elevated maternal mortality and morbidity rates. These negative outcomes are largely due to systemic inequities, which create significant disparities in how women experience the healthcare system.

Congress has started to invest nearly $1 billion in key federal programs to reduce maternal mortality and improve maternal health. Comprehensive legislation called the “Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act” has been reintroduced in Congress. The White House has taken actions to improve maternal health, including releasing a blueprint with specific actions the federal government can take to improve maternal health with a focus on advancing equity.

Policy and Legislation

In June 2022, the White House issued a Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis.

In May 2023, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act was reintroduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and the co-chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Rep. Alam Adams (D-NC) and Lauren Underwood (D-IL), with broad support from their colleagues in the House and Senate. The Momnibus is made up of 13 bills sponsored by Caucus Members to address social determinants of health, provide funding for community-based organizations, grow and diversify the perinatal health workforce, expand access to maternal mental health care, and improve data collection processes.

In July 2023, Senators Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the Kira Johnson Act, legislation to provide funding to community-based organizations leading the charge to improve maternal health outcomes, particularly for Black women. The legislation creates a 5-year, $500 million grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services to improve outcomes and reduce bias, racism, and discrimination in maternal care settings. This bill is included in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2023. The bill introduction follows an alarming study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found maternal mortality doubled between 1999 and 2019, with most deaths among Black women.

Talking Points

  • The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country, and it’s worsening. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that maternal deaths in recent years have increased by a dramatic 89%.
  • According to the CDC, Black women are two to six times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than White women, depending on where they live, with disparities increasing over the last ten years.
  • Kaiser Family Foundation’s maternal health policy brief reinforces this research that Black and American Indian and Alaska Native women have higher rates of pregnancy-related death compared to White women.
  • In addition to maternal mortality, experiencing racism was significantly associated with greater odds of preterm birth and made Black women more susceptible to post-partum depression, having preterm birth and low birth weight babies, and other poor health outcomes.
  • Factors related to systemic, institutional, and historical racism that perpetuate poor maternal health and birth outcomes for women of color include a lack of access to quality and equitable health care, education, and housing, rates of poverty, and lifelong experiences of bias and discrimination.
  • The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act can save lives. The CDC’s data also found that over 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. 

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