Ayanna Pressley and Cory Booker Introduce Bill to Decrease Maternal Mortality

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley have teamed up to introduce a bill that aims to lower the maternal mortality rate in the US.

The Maximizing Outcomes for Moms through Medicaid Improvement and Enhancement of Services Act, or the Healthy MOMMIES Act, would extend coverage for pregnant women who are covered by Medicaid. The proposed bill would expand coverage for new mothers from two months to a full year after giving birth, according to a statement.

Booker noted that the US spends the most money on healthcare but still has the highest rate of maternal death in the developed world. The Democratic presidential hopeful noted that Black women in the US are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. New Jersey has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, NPR noted in 2017.

“We simply cannot continue to accept this alarming status quo — we must do something about it and this bill is an important first step,” Booker said in the statement. “By expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant women, we can begin to stem the rising tide of maternal mortality and close the egregious racial gaps that exist in maternal and infant health outcomes."

Between 2011 and 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that Black women accounted for 40 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to white women, who represented 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births. The proposed bill would ensure that all pregnant and postpartum women have full healthcare coverage, and would increase access to primary healthcare providers and women’s health providers. It would also establish access to doula care, who would provide support personnel for pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid.

"The lived experiences of Black women demonstrate how racism and trauma directly impacts the health and wellbeing of marginalized communities for generations," Pressley said in the statement. "Maternal justice is about ensuring that every mom-to-be is listened to and treated with dignity and respect during and after childbirth. The MOMMIES Act would do just that by promoting a community-based, holistic approach to maternal care that recognizes current disparities in healthcare and critical environmental factors impacting communities."

The piece of legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). The bill also has support from organizations including the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Every Mother Counts, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and many others.

"In the United States we currently face the highest risk of illness, complications and even death due to lack of quality maternal care and more egregiously, institutional bias and racism rampant in our hospitals and healthcare systems,” Black Mamas Matter said in the statement. “Black Mamas Matter Alliance supports the MOMMIES Act due to its potential to advance maternal health, rights and justice for Black Mamas and ensure their ability to thrive before, during and after pregnancy.”

In April, US Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.) announced the creation of a Black Maternal Health Caucus, which would help prioritize Black maternal health in Congress.

“This issue demands unique Congressional attention and I’m so proud to lead this effort with Congresswoman Adams to elevate Black maternal health as a national priority and explore and advocate for effective, evidence-based, culturally-competent policies, and best practices. The status quo is intolerable, we must come together to reverse current trends and achieve optimal birth outcomes for all families,” Underwood said in a previous statement to The North Star.

Booker is not the only presidential hopeful who has introduced legislation to help decrease the maternal mortality rate. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled her own plan during the She the People forum in April that would help lower maternal mortality rates in the US.

Warren suggested that hospitals that help lower maternal mortality rates would receive bonuses and those that don't would see a decrease in funding. During the forum, Warren said she wants hospitals to “see it as their responsibility to address this problem head-on and make it a first priority.” The Massachusetts Senator also said “prejudice” is the reason there is such a large disparity in the maternal mortality rate between white and Black women.

“The best studies that I’ve seen put it down to just one thing: prejudice,” Warren said. “Doctors and nurses don’t hear African American women’s medical issues the same way that they hear the same things from white women.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.