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Fighting to Improve Black Maternal Health Through Advocacy and Law

Thanks to the tireless work of Black women, you now know the statistics; the United States shamefully remains one of 13 countries where maternal mortality and morbidity rates are worse today than they were 25 years ago. In the United States, Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts, regardless of education level or economic status, and in some cities, the disparity between Black and white women is eight times as high. In an affluent and “medically-advanced” nation like the United States, structural racism and its health impacts are to blame; 60 percent of these maternal deaths could have been prevented, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I recently had the opportunity to speak on a powerhouse panel titled “Pregnant in a Time of Crisis: Improving Black Maternal Health Through Advocacy and Law.” Introduced by Charise Frazier, Chair of the NBA Health Law Section and moderated by Tammy Boyd, Chief Policy Officer at our partner organization Black Women’s Health Imperative, this conversation explored policies and best practices for improving Black maternal Health outcomes.

Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-NC), Co-chair of the Congressional Black Maternal Health Caucus, and her former Senior Policy Advisor, Kichelle Webster discussed the stark reality of this “crisis within a crisis” during COVID-19 and the urgency of implementing the Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021.

Dr. Joia Adele Crear-Perry, CEO and founder of National Birth Equity Collaborative reminded viewers that it is not enough to implement “implicit bias” trainings; we need to implement birth equity trainings that get at the root of structural racism and address the harmful ways Black women are treated and policed in hospital systems.

Michelle Bratcher Goodwin, Chancellor’s Professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law discussed her book Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood and detailed the history of the legalization of reproductive oppression that has led us to the conditions of today, where Black women are neglected around our pain in ways that lead to lethal outcomes and punished by laws that hinder our access to care and police our decision-making around pregnancy and parenting.

In my remarks, I offer a call to action for lawyers and lawmakers alike to work closely with community-based stakeholders and marginalized communities to drive forward intersectional solutions, such as the Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act, which connects Reproductive and Environmental Justice in addressing the racialized maternal health impacts that stem from environmental racism, and exposure to extreme heat and toxins that impacts our reproductive and overall health.

Last month, In Our Own Voice, SisterLove Inc., and Interfaith Voices for Reproductive Justice released the Black RJ Policy Agenda. It’s an innovative, proactive policy agenda created in collaboration with more than 30 Black women’s organizations and Reproductive Justice activists. Among other things, the Agenda offers a groundbreaking, intersectional model for advancing policies that addresses the maternal health needs of Black women, femmes, and gender expansive people on multiple fronts.

It is not enough to know the statistics. We must continue to fight for real solutions, and Black women have been fighting hard. Help us by joining the fight! Read and share our full policy agenda and be sure to tell your member of Congress to support the Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda.

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