In the United States, Black women die from childbirth at the highest rate of any other person of color and three to four times more often than their white counterparts. These statistics alone were enough for Congress to try and tackle the Black maternal mortality crisis with the new Black Maternal Health Momnibus.
Unsurprisingly, Black women have dealt with a long list of issues and factors that contribute to this crisis. According to Vice President Kamala Harris, who led a group of her congressional colleagues to pass the legislation, there are numerous social determinants that contribute to and need investment to combat the crisis. These include housing, transportation, and nutrition.
Additionally, Vice President Harris also cited “systemic racial inequities and implicit bias” that need to be confronted in building this piece of legislation, acknowledging disparities in healthcare. She made a compassionate plea that, “Black women deserve to be heard, their voices deserve to be respected, and like all people, treated with dignity.”
Vice President Harris and other Black female members of Congress took this cause personally. Then, other “men”bers, like Rep. Cory Booker, joined the force.
After listening to heartbreaking stories, Congress passed the legislation package, which includes a dozen bills aimed at eliminating the healthcare inequities that Black women and other marginalized females face pertaining to childbirth.
The hope is that the passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus bill will close the gap in the number of Black women dying from childbirth and address other disparaging factors like a lack of prenatal care and nutrition. In order to do this, the legislation plans to provide adequate, safe housing and transportation, education and training, and maternal services by funding and supporting states’ local community organizations.
While all of these actions will certainly help to close the maternal morbidity gap a bit, addressing implicit bias in the medical community is easier said than done. The mistreatment of Black people in the U.S. is systemically rooted, as is the mistrust of Black healthcare that stems from that fact.
These perceptions come from a system built when Black people were bred like animals and white slave masters only wanted the strongest, most physically capable to do the hard, continuous work, i.e., the ones that could take and tolerate pain.
As a result, doctors in the U.S. have historically ignored and dismissed Black women’s reported pain, especially those associated with reproductive healthcare. After all, the Black woman was the birthing machine to sustain the free labor force.
Sadly, the mistreatment of Black women by medical professions has continued well after slavery was abolished. Most notable is the story of unsuspecting Black woman Henrietta Lacks. In 1951, white doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took cells from her body without her or her family’s knowledge or consent after her death and then used them to conduct the world’s most important research. The cells eventually became known as HeLa cells.
There are many Caucasian physicians that question if practices like these still continue today. A lot of white people claim they’re not racist because, in their minds, they truly don’t think they are. They are not aware of their unconscious biases against Black women.
The true-life stories of Black women entering hospitals with the expectancy of leaving with joy and a new life, only to never actually get to take that life home, is heartbreaking. No doubt, after learning of the plight of these women who gave their lives during childbirth, the authors of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus bill hope this piece of legislation will not serve in vain.
The historical woes of discard, neglect, and dishonesty suffered by Black women by medical officials may not be totally erased (after all, character cannot be legislated). However, the intent is to educate both sides and come together to close the Black maternal mortality gap. So, kudos to Congress for stepping up and doing the right thing for Black women, mothers, and families.