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The year is 2021, yet Black women are still more than three times as as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than non-Hispanic white women. 

Observed since 2018, Black Maternal Health Week has been used to raise awareness of this alarming health disparity — which makes pregnancy and childbirth particularly deadly for Black women. This year, the Planned Parenthood family of organizations recognizes the heartbreaking reality for millions of Black women affected by the physical and emotional harm caused by systemic racism, in hopes that, by 2022, we can help bring about the change necessary to deliver the healthiest outcomes for Black mamas and their babies.  

With a new administration in office and friendly majorities in Congress, a window of opportunity exists to pass sweeping legislation to improve Black maternal health outcomes. President Biden and Vice President Harris have made lowering the maternal mortality rate in the United States a top priority of their administration, and Congress has introduced several pieces of legislation in the past few years designed to do just that. The most comprehensive legislation to date is the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021: a bill addressing everything from the social determinants of health, which can lead to poor maternal health outcomes, to racism and implicit bias that worsens the quality of maternity care for Black women.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages — with a “fourth wave” underway even as vaccination rates increase across the U.S. daily — the devastating impact of this public health crisis on the Black community continues to shine a light on systemic racism and its role in fueling health disparities. Not only have Black people been more susceptible to COVID-19 infection and death, but Black women have been among the hardest hit financially.

Because of systemic racism and other oppressive structures, Black women receive fewer economic opportunities than non-Hispanic white women, and collectively earn lower incomes and face more financial challenges. Experiencing additional job loss and financial insecurity exacerbated by the pandemic, many Black women have struggled to secure housing and food assistance — issues that the Momnibus Act attempts to address by authorizing data collection to assess housing and nutritional needs, as well as extending Medicaid coverage and food benefits to Black pregnant people and mothers in need. 

The advancement of federal legislation and other national initiatives to address the effects of systemic racism and its role in the maternal health crisis has been made possible by the work of organizations such as the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, SisterSong, The National Birth Equity Collaborative and other Black-led reproductive justice organizations that have brought the Black maternal health crisis to national attention. Since the first commemoration of Black Maternal Health Week in 2018, these organizations’ efforts have led to the introduction of more than a dozen bills in Congress to rectify the challenges and systemic bias that too often lead to poor maternal health outcomes for Black mamas.

The Momnibus Act is far-reaching — also addressing maternity care for veterans, incarcerated women, and Indigenous women, who are also more than three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women. 

In recognition of Black Maternal Health Week, please join us along with the more than 190 reproductive rights and justice organizations, including the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, by urging your member of Congress to support the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021.  

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Black mamas deserve better. Tell your member of Congress to support the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act so Black mothers can thrive.

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Tags: black maternal health week, Planned Parenthood Black Community

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