In 2021, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report confirmed the United States’ maternal mortality rate as the worst in the country’s recent history. At a rate of 32.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, the United States’ maternal mortality figure stood at over ten times the estimated rates of comparable nations. Equally noteworthy is the variation in the burden of America’s maternal health crisis—that same year, Black birthing people died of pregnancy and birth related complications at three times the rate of white birthing people.
Introduced by Representatives Lauren Underwood and Alma Adams, Senator Cory Booker, and Members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus in 2021, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (the Momnibus) aims to address these disparities—and America’s maternal health crisis overall—at the source to create conditions conducive to safe birthing experiences. The Momnibus will once again be led by Rep Underwood and Adams, Booker in the Senate, and the Black Maternal Health Caucus for reintroduction for the 118th Congress this year.
The Momnibus aims to comprehensively address the factors driving maternal mortality, morbidity, and health disparities through the inclusion of twelve individual bills, each investing into specific spheres to improve outcomes for birthing people. Among the bills is the Social Determinants for Moms Act, which will establish a task force to evaluate the maternal health crisis through a holistic lens and provide funding for community-based organizations integral to the promotion of maternal health. Accompanying this bill is The WIC Extension for New Moms Act, which extends eligibility for WIC in the postpartum and breastfeeding periods to ensure the nutritional needs of birthing people and their babies are met. This reflects one of two changes from the last set of bills, which consolidated the two acts.
In addition to the significance of neighboring spheres that shape maternal health outcomes beyond the clinical setting, the Momnibus acknowledges the unique plight of Black birthing people. The Kira Johnson Act, named after Kira Johnson, who died from a hemorrhage 12 hours after delivering a healthy baby boy, not only makes investments in community-based organizations leading efforts to support birthing people, but it also supports bias, racism, and discrimination trainings and Respectful Maternity Care Compliance Programs within hospitals. In other words, the bill calls on key players to promote safe birthing experiences as a baseline, and ensures that there are mechanisms in place for birthing people to promote accountability when these players do not meet these standards.
Another bill that addresses the unique challenges of Black birthing people is the Perinatal Workforce Act, which plays on the significance of racially-concordant care. The act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide guidance to states on the promotion of racially, ethnically, and professionally diverse maternity care teams. It also calls on them to study how culturally congruent maternity care promotes better outcomes for moms, especially in communities of color. The bill will lead efforts to study barriers that prevent women from underserved communities from entering maternity care professions and receiving equitable compensation. Outside of heightening awareness through research, the bill provides funding towards the establishment and growth of programs that will increase the number of nurses, midwives, physician assistants, doulas, and other trusted birth workers who can assist through pregnancy, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period.
The second change in The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act surrounds another population with unique needs in the fight against maternal mortality. As the number of female veterans increases, there is an urgent requirement for consistent investment in VA’s maternity care programs. To address the growing demand for maternity care services and eliminate maternal mortality, morbidity, and disparities among veterans, the Maternal Health for Veterans Act will renew funding from the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, which was signed into law since the original introduction of the Momnibus.
The fight against maternal mortality is a marathon, not a sprint. The Mama Glow Foundation continues to work alongside other key stakeholders to support the structuring of this vital initiative and reach the ultimate goal of getting the entire Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act signed into law.