U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced this week a bill aimed at reducing significant racial disparities in maternal mortality and morbidity.
The Oregon senators joined with a dozen colleagues introducing the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act, in response to statistics showing the United States is one of only 13 countries where the maternal mortality rate is worse than it was 25 years ago. For African-American women, the risk of death from pregnancy-related causes is three to four times higher than for white women, and African-American women are twice as likely to suffer from life-threatening pregnancy complications.
“Health care is a basic human right, and these deeply troubling numbers sound the alarm that women of color suffer unequal treatment in the maternity ward,” Wyden said. “Inequality in care during childbirth is unacceptable, and this legislation targeting the roots of that inequality is a must.”
“The rate of maternal death for African-American women in the U.S. is shocking, and these disparities are unacceptable,” said Merkley. “With the tremendous advances we’ve made in modern medicine, we should be doing everything we can to prevent women from dying of pregnancy-related complications—yet the data clearly show that we are not living up to that promise in our nation, especially for African-American women. This bill is a badly-needed step forward for maternal health in America.”
The legislation creates two new grant programs focused on reducing racial health disparities in maternal health, and directs the National Academy of Medicine to study and make recommendations for incorporating bias recognition in clinical skills testing for U.S. medical schools.
In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the bill is sponsored by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
The Maternal CARE Act has received support from the following organizations: American Academy of Nursing, American College of Nurse-Midwives, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Black Women Birthing Justice, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Center for Reproductive Rights, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, March of Dimes, National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Partnership for Women & Families, National Women’s Law Center, Planned Parenthood, SisterSong National Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.
“Women of color continue to face disproportionate rates of maternal mortality and morbidity in this country,” said Jennifer Jacoby Altscher, Federal Policy Counsel, Center for Reproductive Rights. “This bill aims to address these racial disparities head-on through the creation of programs that have proven to lead to better health for women of color.”