Today marks the reintroduction of the landmark legislative package known as the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (hereafter the Momnibus). Aimed at helping to address the severe maternal health crisis among Black women, who are approximately three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes when compared to white women, the 2021 version is a comprehensive package that includes twelve bills and is led by Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-OH) and Alma Adams (D-NC). It advances critically important policies that cover various dimensions of maternal health among Black women, and makes robust investments to ensure quality health care and a myriad of social supports pregnant and postpartum women desperately need. The Senate companion bill was previously championed by then-Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) in 2020, and now has a new lead sponsor in Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
The reintroduction of the Momnibus is particularly timely, given the vast racial black–white disparity in maternal health outcomes and the heightened attention to the need for real policy solutions that support Black women. Black women have consistently showed up to save American democracy, and the 2020 election cycle was no different. Black women have been on the frontline fighting for racial justice. They have helped organize historic voter mobilization efforts, arrived in droves at the ballot box, and been described as the most dependable and reliable voting bloc in the country—and 90 percent of them voted to elect Joe Biden over Donald Trump. Implementing solutiofns to address America’s Black maternal health crisis would help save Black women’s lives. It would help support the health and well-being of Black families and the Black community as a whole. Addressing Black maternal health should also be a key tenant of any national strategy or plan to root out systemic racism and realize racial equity.
On the campaign trail, both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made clear commitments to addressing racial disparities in maternal health as part of their policy platforms. Kamala Harris was a fierce champion of Black maternal health alongside her colleagues in the Black Maternal Health Caucus. And while it is still in the early days of the Biden–Harris administration, keeping those commitments must be a central component in the work ahead to build back better. In addition to the request that the Biden–Harris administration work with Congress to support passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus, The Century Foundation also makes the following Executive Branch recommendations that would help eliminate disparities in maternal health:
- make it a national priority to improve maternal health and eliminate disparities in health outcomes by race and ethnicity;
- launch an interagency task force to coordinate work to address maternal health outcomes;
- include robust funding in the president’s fiscal year 2022 budget to support maternal health;
- implement meaningful solutions aimed at eradicating structural racism within the health care system; and
- leverage all available resources and mechanisms to encourage states to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage to at least twelve months.
The 2021 reintroduction of the Momnibus presents new opportunities for both Congress and the Biden–Harris administration to address America’s Black maternal health crisis once and for all. The new version of the bill includes additional areas of focus, including addressing the pregnancy-related impacts of climate change and calling attention to the unique risks of COVID-19 on pregnant and birthing people. Birth justice advocates stand ready to work in lock-step with Congress and the administration to eradicate the disparately poor maternal health outcomes among Black women. The commitments have certainly laid the groundwork. Now, it is time for concrete action to follow. Black women can’t wait, nor should they have to wait. Black women have consistently showed up in service of American democracy. As one of the most critical and crippling health challenges of our lifetime continues to go inadequately addressed, and Black women continue to suffer and die of preventable pregnancy-related causes, it is time for our nation’s federal policymakers to show up for them.
header photo: Alma Adams, alongside Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking about the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Source: Wiki Commons