At a time when Black Maternity wasn’t an integral or meaningful part of Maternal Healthcare or Climate Change conversations in Congress, let alone a preoccupation, then Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Representative Alma Adams (D-NC12) introduced in April of 2018 the first ever Black Maternal Health Week Resolution in both the Senate and House, followed by the launching of the first ever Black Maternal Health Week in concert with the Black Mamas Alliance. This resolution, that specifically centered the agonizing challenges of Black Women that reside at the abusive intersection of Medical Racism and Medical Misogyny, forced the conversation on the importance of addressing specifically Black Maternal Health, pushing it forward relentlessly until effectively becoming a foundational legislation to any Progressive candidate’s campaign aiming to advance Affordable and Accessible Healthcare as well as addressing the challenges of Climate Change.
Shortly thereafter, then Senator Kamala Harris introduced the first ever bill in Congress tackling specifically the disparities in Black Maternal Mortality rates called the Maternal Care Act. The bill proposed funding that implicitly addresses racial biases in Healthcare and for the first time ever, explicit language centered the oft mistreated, the forgotten, and the erased by a long-standing system built on racism and cruel prejudice. At the time, only 18 Senators co-sponsored the bill, but this however brought forth the importance of addressing Maternal Mortality by centering the most abused, targeting the failures of a healthcare system that punishes those often othered by white supremacy, and we saw this desperately needed change when the many candidates who ran in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primaries included that very language in their campaign policy proposals (Senators Warren, Gillibrand, and again, Harris were primary leaders on the subject matter).
The 2018 Blue Wave that flipped the House saw champions of healthcare take up the mantle of Maternal Mortality, expanding on Senator Harris and Representative Adams’s efforts. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL14) and Alma Adams created the first ever Black Maternal Health Caucus in the House with 53 founding members. If you still don’t know who Representative Underwood is, now would be a great time to read up on her already amazing accomplishments and long-lasting legislative legacy in the making:
In 2021, Rep. Underwood reintroduced her Momnibus with new Senate partner, Cory Booker (she first co-wrote 9 bills of the Momnibus in 2020 with then Senator Kamala Harris), expanding it to 12 bills in order to better reflect the new Covid environment which affects how we address Maternal Health. The Momnibus legislation advanced out of committee on September 15, 2021, and President Biden decided to become a primary partner by including the full 12 Momnibus bills in the Build Back Better Act.
It is without contest the largest investment in history to save moms’ lives and advance Maternal Health Equity. Here are quick highlights of the 12 bills:
- Make critical investments in social determinants of health that influence maternal health outcomes, like housing, transportation, and nutrition.
- Provide funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal health outcomes and promote equity.
- Comprehensively study the unique maternal health risks facing pregnant and postpartum veterans and support VA maternity care coordination programs.
- Grow and diversify the perinatal workforce to ensure that every mom in America receives culturally congruent maternity care and support.
- Improve data collection processes and quality measures to better understand the causes of the maternal health crisis in the United States and inform solutions to address it.
- Support moms with maternal mental health conditions and substance use disorders.
- Improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated moms.
- Invest in digital tools like telehealth to improve maternal health outcomes in underserved areas.
- Promote innovative payment models to incentivize high-quality maternity care and non-clinical perinatal support.
- Invest in federal programs to address the unique risks for and effects of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy and to advance respectful maternity care in future public health emergencies.
- Invest in community-based initiatives to reduce levels of and exposure to climate change-related risks for moms and babies.
- Promote maternal vaccinations to protect the health and safety of moms and babies. (Source: Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021)
Here’s hoping for it to pass both houses in Congress (soon!) and for President Biden to finally sign the damn bill.
But get ready, as it is often expected in these challenging and more divisive times, whether under the guise of Conservatism, Liberalism, or Progressivism, white supremacy will seek to stop this progress, and when the Build Back Better Act is signed into Law, your favorite and loudest Outrage Merchants will push to greatly undermine the significance of passing such legislation that improves the lives of Communities of Color, more particularly People who identify as Black Women+, Native American Women+, and Women+ of Color. And as always, this will be done with the sole purpose of misleading followers on the ground-breaking importance of centering Maternal Healthcare, because it simply dares to help people from the ground up, giving a new generation of Americans every chance at being born to healthy parents, in a healthy environment, with easy access to affordable healthcare. Please remember, as it has been proven time and again, Progress does not trickle from the most privileged down.
The better, more hopeful news in this toxic environment is that Lauren Underwood, superstar of Progressive legislation affecting long-lasting positive change, who fought hard battles to flip a red seat and winning reelection, is now in a more comfortable position, hopefully ensuring her much-needed presence in Congress for a longer time. Have a great Wednesday, Politicadoes!