Many political issues divide the nation, but some concerns are so critical and close to home that they lend themselves to human compassion—making bipartisan support much easier to achieve. One such issue that has recently gained national attention is maternal health.
This month, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), who helped launch the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Maternity Care, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) led 16 co-sponsors in introducing the Ending Maternal Mortality Act (H.R. 5761).
“I’ve heard far too many stories of women dying or experiencing traumatic health challenges in childbirth, and so many of the issues they’re confronting are preventable,” said Rep. Beutler. “Unfortunately, such stories have the maternal mortality rate in the U.S. heading in the wrong direction. Whether it’s this new legislative effort with Rep. Krishnamoorthi, or my Preventing Maternal Deaths Act that would help states understand the maternal health challenges in local communities, it’s time for Congress to act.”
Maternal mortality refers to deaths due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. According to the World Health Organization, “maternal death or maternal mortality is the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy.”
Throughout the month of May, when mothers across America are celebrated, many nonprofit maternal advocacy groups like 2020 Mom, March for Moms, and the March of Dimes gathered in Washington for rallies and advocacy events to increase awareness and push for legislation that supports research and treatment to end pregnancy-related deaths.
According to an investigative report co-published by ProPublica and NPR last year, the United States has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world and 60 percent are preventable. The report also indicated that “while maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S.”
The theories surrounding the causes of maternal deaths—specifically among minorities—are numerous. They include poverty, inadequate health care coverage, limited access to family planning options, stress, discrimination, and a high percentage of unplanned pregnancies with the expectant mother having existing undiagnosed chronic medical conditions.
According to the report, maternal mortality increased in the United States from 2000 to 2014 as it declined in less developed countries. Due to the high rates of maternal mortality among Black women in New York, the state expanded the Medicaid program to cover doulas, and in Texas, task forces are being formed to investigate the connection between poverty and maternal deaths.
Last week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, mother of five and grandmother of nine, hosted the Moms Summit where academics, advocates, and national leaders gathered for panel discussions on the importance of public health for women and families.
Joy Burkhard, CEO of 2020 Mom, partnered with the nonprofit, March for Moms, for a rally in Washington on May 6. She explained what the groups requested of legislators during the three-day event on Capitol Hill.
They asked for continued support of the annual funding of the Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act, which Burkhard mentioned was first funded by this year’s Omnibus package and provides grants to states.
They also asked for co-authors for House bill, The Family Act (H.R. 947), which will provide families with 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a family member or for a newborn.
“This matters because no woman should have to return to work suddenly after the birth of her baby in order to feed her family,” Burkhard said. “Research illustrates that mothers who don’t have time to care and bond with their newborns face higher rates of anxiety and depression. All families should be in the position to care for a mother who is suffering from a maternal mental health disorder,” according to Burkhard.
The maternal advocacy groups also asked for co-authors for Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017 (H.R. 1318), which would establish federal support and provide technical assistance to states in developing or running existing maternal mortality review committees to investigate the cause of maternal deaths and implement protocol to attempt to reduce maternal deaths, including suicides.
Maternal health organizations recognize that policy change is critical to achieving the scale needed to shift maternal health conditions and outcomes. Focusing on the power of advocacy, March of Dimes also recently launched a new network, March of Dimes MOMentum, funded by the Gretchen Carlson’s Gift of Courage Fund. According to the organization’s website, MOMentum will be powered by a cohort of fellows who will champion the issues important to moms, babies, and families.
“March of Dimes MOMentum marks the beginning of a movement, embodied by the next generation of women’s advocates dedicated to making a change,” said Carlson in the press release announcing the program. “With the formation of this fellowship, it is my hope to empower these women so we can advance the policy changes most needed in our country.”
Learn more about these issues and how you can help:
- 2020 Mom*
- Every Mother Counts
- March of Dimes*
- March for Moms
- National Women’s Law Center
- Women’s Congressional Policy Institute*
*Indicates organization is an IS member