Black women in the United States face significant health care disparities, including the highest maternal mortality rate in the country.
According to numerous statistics, Black women are three to four times as likely to die from childbirth as white women, yet only 87 percent of Black women of reproductive age have health insurance coverage.
Black women are also more likely to live in states that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, meaning they disproportionately fall into the coverage gap and Black women are more likely to experience complications throughout their pregnancies than white women.
April 11 through April 17 marks the second annual Black Maternal Health Week, which, among other things, highlights the United States’ frighteningly high rate of maternal deaths among the highest of developed countries around the world.
Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.) is among a group of Democratic lawmakers behind the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which was launched with more than 50 founding members, including a number of Underwood’s freshman female colleagues such as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Lucy McBath (D-Ga.).
About 700 women die each year in the U.S. due to complications from pregnancy or giving birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some 65,000 women nearly die of pregnancy-related complications.
While every other developed country has seen a decrease in maternal deaths in recent years, the U.S. has seen an increase, and the numbers are even more staggering for African-American women, data shows.
“If you’re an African-American … your risks of dying in childbirth are three to four times higher than if you’re white,” Dr. Neel Shah, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an OB-GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News. “It’s not tied to income. It’s not tied to education. … It’s something about the lived experience of being African-American.”
Adams said Black mothers are dying at alarming rates and that the nation is “truly in the midst of a national health crisis.”
She said she wants Congress to do something about it and created the caucus to provide legislative solutions.
“More than half of these deaths are preventable,” Adams told ABC News.
Supporters said current policies aren’t doing enough to prevent complications and save Black mothers’ lives.
“That is unacceptable in America and we need to change it. We cannot and must not accept this,” said Steny Hoyer, House Majority Leader.
Congress has already passed several bills aimed at reducing maternal mortality rates, according to ABC News.
But caucus members said there’s little focus on the impact on minority groups and racial disparities. Supporters said the caucus can change that.
“There is something that we have to fix within our health care system and our society that says Black mamas lives don’t matter,” said Elizabeth Dawes Gay, a co-founder of Black Mamas Matter.
Racial bias is a certainly a factor and federal leaders, health professionals and mothers from all walks of life must work together to close gaps in the system, Dawes Gay said.
“Recognize the disparities, but to also envision a brighter future for Black mamas,” she said.