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Today, April 11th, is the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. On this day each year, maternal health advocates, researchers, and providers committed to rights-based, comprehensive, and dignified maternal health care raise awareness about pressing issues in maternal health and rights. This week also marks the first Black Maternal Mortality Awareness Week.

At Planned Parenthood of New York City, we’re passionate about providing quality, compassionate, and affordable health care - including to pregnant and parenting mothers. For the last two decades, maternal mortality rates have risen sharply in the United States, where they are already the highest in the developed world. For Black women, maternal mortality rates have reached critical levels, with Black women dying from pregnancy-related complications at 3.5 times the rate of their white counterparts nationally.

In New York City, our maternal mortality rate is actually even worse, and this is unacceptable. According to ProPublica, of the estimated 700 to 900 deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth nationwide each year, New York City accounts for about 30. Our maternal mortality outcomes also feature a worsening racial divide. A New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report showed that Black women were 12 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from pregnancy-related causes.

Pregnancy-related mortality is often associated with obesity, underlying chronic illness, and poverty - all issues that disproportionately affect Black women. Stresses associated with racism and social inequity also likely contribute to racial disparities in health, like differences in infant mortality, preterm birth, and low birth weight. Until we center and prioritize the overall health and well-being of Black women throughout their lifetime, and not just in pregnancy, we won’t see an end to these disparaging statistics.

The New York State Senate just refused to include the Women’s Agenda, 13 provisions that would make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers, including preventing maternal mortality, in their budget last month. Without committed, wide-reaching efforts to improve maternal health and break barriers to care that lead to shocking health disparities, we cannot transform the problematic systems in place that fail to prioritize the health of women of color.

What are some ways we as a community can better understand and reduce maternal deaths?

We must support organizations doing the critical work of fighting for Black women’s health and safety, fight for equal access to quality care across socioeconomic lines, and most importantly, passionately advocate against the structural racism that has made historically oppressed communities bear the greatest burdens of negative health outcomes in New York City and across the United States.

Black Mamas Matter Alliance is an organization dedicated to Black maternal health, rights, and justice. They work to change policy, cultivate research, advance care for black mothers, and shift culture in the service of improving Black maternal health.

Support them and let the world know that #BlackMamasMatter - together, we can change the trajectory of maternal health for women of color in the United States.