June 21, 2018 

By Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) 


Black mothers are dying and it’s time to do something about it.


Every year, more than 700 American mothers lose their lives to pregnancy or birth-related complications. Some medical professionals estimate that at least half, if not more, of these deaths are entirely preventable.


While the deaths of 700-plus American mothers should shock us all, the statistics are much worse for African American mothers. We are three-to-four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than our White counterparts. A 2010-2011 survey of maternal deaths in Philadelphia found that three-quarters of those deaths were Black mothers.


These shocking statistics cut across class, education level, and socio-economic status. Earlier this year, Serena Williams shared her own story of nearly losing her life.


She, like too many other women, was ignored when she raised concerns about her own health and body. If this tragedy can befall a wealthy, world-class athlete who’s deeply in tuned with her own body, it could, and does, happen to anyone.


Sadly, the situation is getting worse, not better. American mothers are dying at higher rates every year.


Globally, we’ve had real success in pushing down the rates of mothers needlessly dying, especially in Africa and the Caribbean. Yet at the same time, the U.S. is one of a handful of nations where the number of mothers dying is increasing.


We can and must do better. All mamas deserve the chance to be mamas.


That’s why I’ve introduced the “Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness Act” or the MOMMA Act, for short. This comprehensive legislation takes a multi-pronged approach to ending maternal mortality through in­creased access to care, expanded culturally-competent training and standardized data collection.


Currently, one of our greatest challenges in addressing the rising rate of maternal mortality is a lack of good data. We need to standardize data to find trends and protocols that work to save lives.


The MOMMA Act also establishes and enforces national emergency obstetric protocols and ensures the sharing of best practices between practitioners and hospital systems because, if it’s working, we want every doctor to know about it.


Additionally, the MOMMA Act would expand access to care by ensuring that mothers retain their Medicaid coverage for one year after giving birth, the entire postpartum period. Right now, mothers lose their coverage just two months after giving birth.


However, many women face significant health challenges, often weeks and months, after giving birth. One mom who spoke at my press conference unveiling the bill suffered a childbirth-related stroke 20 days after giving birth. Furthermore, we know that postpartum depression and other health challenges face new mothers; expanding access to care will ensure that moms remain healthy as they raise their families.


Finally, the MOMMA Act would improve access to culturally-competent care throughout the care continuum. For decades, we’ve known that culturally-incompetent care has had massive and negative impacts on our community and our health. In 2018, it’s time to train health professionals to give appropriate care to all patients, regardless of their race.


I could not be prouder to have introduced the MOMMA Act or to have worked with the amazing women and men who helped us craft this important legislation to save mothers’ lives.


It’s the product of months of work with families, mothers, doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas and policy advocates. I’m deeply humbled to have the support of Black Women’s Health Imperative, the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the National Urban League, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and many others.


As a mother, I was lucky enough to experience two happy, healthy pregnancies. I want the same thing for every mother and family: a healthy, happy pregnancy and child.


Congresswoman Robin Kelly represents Illinois’ Second Con­gressional District. She is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and the Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. She also serves on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Follow Congresswoman Kelly on Twitter @RepRobinKelly.

Category: Opinion