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Photo: Black Maternal Health Caucus
The Black Maternal Momnibus Act was first introduced in March of 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic derailed the country. Graphic: Black Maternal Health Caucus

The Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021 is out to tackle a “national shame” of maternal mortality

Black women and other women of color have a mortality rate three to four times higher than their white counterparts in the U.S.

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On Monday Feb. 8, Reps. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) and Alma Adams (D-NC), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and the Black Maternal Health Caucus, introduced the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021

During a virtual press conference Monday Feb. 7, Sen. Booker explained that the maternal mortality rate for Black women and other women of color was three to four times higher than that of their white counterparts, calling this fact a “national shame.” 

“The outcomes that we have are not predestined. They are the result of policy choices,” he said. “Or maybe better put: they are the result of us failing to make policy choices that would help us to affirm who we say we are — a nation that believes that people have inalienable rights,” Booker added. 

The “Momnibus” was first introduced last March, but it didn’t progress too far, as the pandemic overwhelmed the nation just days after its introduction. The updated 12-bill package includes the previous legislation, with additional bills that specifically address the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on people of color. 

Several of the bills are focused on improving the quality of health care for at-risk expectant mothers by creating a more diverse staff of perinatal workers, investing in virtual health care to reach pregnant people in underserved communities, and extending insurance coverage up to one year postpartum. 

The act would also upgrade data collection to better recognize the causes of the high rates of maternal mortality for women of color. 

Other bills include aid and support for mothers living with mental illness and substance use disorders, as well as incarcerated individuals. The act also seeks to fund community-based groups and initiatives that work to reduce the effects of climate change on mothers and babies. It also seeks to improve the “social determinants of health,” such as transportation, nutrition, and housing. 

“As maternal mortality rates continue to drop around the world, they are rising in the U.S., leaving behind devastated families and children who will grow up never knowing their moms. This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the country,” said Congresswoman Underwood, co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. 

Nearly 200 organizations have endorsed the Momnibus Act, including the California Nurse-Midwives Association, the NAACP, Childbirth Survival International and Moms Clean Air Force. 

“Psychological science shows us that, in the healthcare system, a Black person’s pain is not taken as seriously as a White person’s pain, and that women’s pain is not taken as seriously as men’s pain. The priorities outlined in this legislation align closely with those of APA’s Presidential Task Force on Psychology and Health Equity. Health equity is critical at this moment in our history, and Black mothers cannot be left behind,” said Jennifer F. Kelly, Ph.D, President of the American Psychological Association. 

The Act is co-sponsored by 16 Senators, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-WI) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). 

In addition, a few Senators are sponsoring individual bills included in the package. Sen. Bob Menendez is sponsoring the Tech to Save Mom's Act, Sen. Blumenthal is sponsoring the Social Determinants for Mom’s Act, and Sen. Duckworth is sponsoring the Protecting Moms who Served Act. 

The nation continues to grapple with long overdue conversations of racial justice, and is working to restore a better state of public health. During these times, it’s imperative that people of color bringing life into the world are placed at the forefront of the movements. 

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