The United States’ healthcare system is failing our women. Unfortunately, racial and geographic disparities further underscore the harsh reality. The rates of maternal mortality are highest among Black women, and some of our major cities are home to the hardest hit communities. In New York City, the maternal mortality rate of Black birthing people is nine times that of white birthing people. What’s worse, most of these deaths are preventable. Undoubtedly, the United States fails to center the health care needs of our women and femmes. Mayor Eric Adams’ ‘New York City Women’s Health Agenda’ aims to tackle these conditions head on to produce equitable health outcomes for women and birthing people.
His agenda honors the long-standing effects of our nation’s patriarchal ideals. In a City Hall address, Adams highlights the shortcomings of biomedical research. It wasn’t until 1993 that Congress passed the Revitalization Act, which called for women’s inclusion in medical research. Even then, gendered disparities persist. “Two times more funding goes into research for male-prevalent diseases,” noted Adams, “—when compared to female-prevalent ones”. Promoting women’s health has not been among the United States’ priorities, and this manifests in our nation’s medical training. According to a survey, only 34% of U.S. medical students express feeling prepared to manage gendered differences in a health care setting. A critical component of Mayor Adams’ vision is undoing the impact of this casual disregard for women.
The United States’ failure to contribute to the well-being of women is not merely historical. Adams highlights recent attempts at undermining women’s health, like the 2022 Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade. “The Supreme Court decision has endangered women’s health across the nation. It was a decision about controlling women’s bodies, their choices, and their freedom. This week would have marked fifty years of Roe v. Wade, but five men, who could never conceive, decided what will happen with women’s bodies in our country.”
While our health care system fails women generally, the effects are not evenly distributed. In addition to gendered health disparities, Adams highlights racial and economic health disparities—noting the difference in maternal mortality rates and pay among Black women and white women, both nationally, and in New York City. Nationally, women are paid 77 cents on the dollar when compared to men. This is worse for women of color. Black women earn 64 cents on the dollar, and Latina women earn 57 cents on the dollar. The cultural expectation that women handle childcare and notions of individualism only exacerbate income inequality, as this care may come at the expense of their careers.
At the foundation of Mayor Adams’ Women’s Health Agenda is the acknowledgement of women’s health as multifactorial. While initiatives around the country enable local governments to take strides in the sphere of maternal health, Adams understands that our nation’s healthcare system fails women in a multitude of ways—many of which do not receive optimal awareness or investigation. “Investments in women’s health are often centered on reproductive health and childbearing, while other health issues, like chronic disease prevention, pain management, gendered violence, and mental health receive limited attention.”
Many women in New York struggle with health care access. Mayor Adams’ model for the future of their care aims to shift this reality. His vision includes goals for access, research, and education. His access goals include expanding the accessibility of medication abortion, exploring the expansion of access to pelvic floor therapy, and launching a family-based substance use disorder program. His main research goals are tracking the rates of different conditions to support women’s health initiatives and assembling a team of thought leaders across various fields to create a comprehensive women’s health agenda. It is his hope that his team of experts will augment the successes of local initiatives, like the citywide expansion of doula and midwifery services. Lastly, among his education goals are launching a provider educational campaign on maternal health and relaunching New York City’s sexual education task force.
Mama Glow is proud to work with the Mayor’s Office and the city of New York to address the health care system’s inequities impacting Black and Brown birthing people by advancing innovative policies and programs like the Citywide Doula Initiative (CDI),” said Latham Thomas, founder, Mama Glow and the Mama Glow Foundation. “The CDI serves as a model for what other metropolitan cities nationwide could embrace and replicate to address decades-long systemic inequalities for marginalized people and enable real change for womxn’s reproductive rights.”
These initiatives, which build on women’s health programs established during his first year in office, are first steps in not only supporting the health of women in New York City, but also, in Adams’ words, supporting their efforts at living life on their own terms.
Watch Mayor Adams’s Address Below.