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By now, you’ve likely heard the statistic, “Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die in childbirth and of pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts.” But the truth is, we are more than just a statistic, which is why we must continue to advocate for meaningful policy and institutional change.
During Black Maternal Health Week 2020 (#BMHW20), In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda is doing our part to lift up policy solutions and the unique issues impacting Black women and pregnant people who are most harmed in the context of the Black maternal health crisis. During the last several months, In the time of COVID-19, we are witnessing the impact health disparities have had on Black communities . Our call to policymakers at every level is to listen to and protect Black mothers, their families, and communities most impacted by reproductive oppression.
On April 13, Lexi J. White, Senior Policy Manager, at In Our Own Voice, presented alongside Pennsylvania State Representative Morgan Cephas (192nd Legislative District) and Dr. Aasta Mehta, the Women’s Health Policy Advisor for the Philadelphia Department of Health on a webinar titled “Advancing the Village to Hold the Mother,” hosted by In Our Own Voice, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, Oshun Family Center and Maternal Wellness Village.
Discussion began with a recap of strategic, proactive and responsive policy work being done at the national and state level to address the Black maternal health crisis. Lexi discussed the collaborative work In Our Own Voice and our state partner organizations have been doing to influence and advance an intersectional agenda to improve maternal health outcomes for Black women. Policy recommendations have included expanding programs that protect women’s health throughout their lifetimes and foster healthy pregnancy and post-partum outcomes for Black women and their children, while ensuring that women living with low incomes have access to health care that covers the full spectrum of reproductive care before pregnancy, during pregnancy, labor and delivery, and in the postpartum period. Recommendations have further, included: improving medical and family leave policies, funding data collection and reporting on maternal morbidity and mortality, and funding research that tells the full story of the institutional and environmental racism that Black women are uniquely subjected to while trying to navigate inequitable health systems.
Lexi also highlighted the recently introduced Federal Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020, a package of bills that aims to do just that, while prioritizing investing in the social determinants of health, funding community-based organizations that are working to improve Black maternal health outcomes, investing in maternal mental health and substance use care, improving maternal care and support for incarcerated women, investing in digital tools like telehealth, and expanding and diversifying the perinatal workforce. She also discussed implications and shortcomings of Congressional response to COVID-19 as germane to the Black maternal health crisis.
Pennsylvania State Representative Morgan Cephas discussed her state package of bills, which seeks to add severe maternal morbidity to the list of reportable events within the Pennsylvania Department of Health, extend Medicaid coverage for pregnancy-related care including Doula services, establish a Doula advisory board, and require implicit bias training in order to improve culturally-competent care delivery.
Lastly, Dr. Mehta highlighted groundbreaking data in Philadelphia which suggests that more than half of recorded pregnancy-related deaths have occurred more than six weeks after the end of pregnancy and that Black women constitute nearly three-quarters of pregnancy-related deaths in the city.
On April 14, Vice President of Government Affairs, Jessica Pinckney also presented on a webinar titled “Maternal and Reproductive Health During COVID-19” hosted by Birth in Color RVA and a number of other partners throughout Virginia. Speakers included Kenda Sutton-EL, Executive Director, Birth in Color RVA, Virginia Delegate Lashrecse Aird (63rd District) and Reverend Lacette Cross, who is a community organizer and sex educator in Virginia. On the webinar, the panelists discussed what reproductive and maternal health looks like in this moment and what the needs of the Black community are and will continue to be in the aftermath of this pandemic.
Jessica shared details of the CARES Act package and reminded listeners that we must continue to advocate for undocumented immigrants, birthing people and anyone who requires abortion care during this pandemic and beyond, all while ensuring that the Black community, which largely represents the front line of this pandemic has ample economic protections. Delegate Aird and Kenda reminded us that our current political systems were not built for the health and safety of Black bodies, while Rev. Cross said that the government is supposed to work for the people, all of us, and that we must stand up and fight for the rights we know we deserve.
Now is as urgent a time as ever to ensure our voices, experiences, and collaborative solutions are heard. When it comes to policy solutions that center Black women’s reproductive, maternal and overall health, structural racism, gender discrimination, and economic injustice cannot be ignored.