Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Address Maternal and Infant Mortality Crisis

Lawmakers are introducing a bill that would address the maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rate in the US.Congresswoman Alma Adams (D-N.C.), Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) and Committee on Education and Labor Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced the Community Access to Resources and Education (CARE) for Families Act on June 6. The bill would invest in community partnerships with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The partnerships would help improve access to proper nutrition and health care services for women who are pregnant and after giving birth.

“We are facing a maternal health crisis in this country, and it disproportionately affects Black women. It is imperative that we ensure all women have equal access to quality pre- and post-natal nutrition and care,” said Adams in a press release. “The CARE for Families Act will strengthen community health partnerships and build upon WIC’s success in providing nutrition and health care for women and children to ensure families can not only survive but thrive.”

The proposed piece of legislation would create a grant program for local WIC agencies and clinics to connect WIC recipients to health care providers like OB-GYNs, pediatricians, and advance practice nurses. The bill would also increase WIC staff and their involvement in communities as well as improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the infant mortality rate in the US was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2017. Over 22,000 infants in the country died in the US that same year, according to the center. The leading causes of those deaths were birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, maternal pregnancy complications, sudden infant death syndrome, and injuries, the CDC states. Underwood, who was a nurse, said in a statement that she knows how important it is for mothers and their newborns to have access to proper healthcare and nutrition. “As a nurse, I understand that a holistic approach to health and well-being is essential to addressing the maternal mortality crisis, including pre- and post-natal nutrition to help new mothers and babies maintain health during pregnancy and the critical months following birth,” Underwood said in a statement.

“I’m proud to introduce the CARE for Families Act, along with my fellow co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, which will make key investments in local nutrition services to help improve infant and maternal outcomes.”

Organizations that support the bill include the Advocates for Better Children’s Diets, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs, MomsRising, and many others. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has also placed his support behind the bill.

“Congress can and ought to do more to protect the health of new mothers and mothers-to-be, particularly women of color and those living in poverty,” Hoyer said in a statement. “That’s why legislation like the CARE for Families Act is so important and why the hard work of Rep. Adams, Rep. Underwood, and Chairman Scott is so critical. I am deeply concerned by the rising maternal mortality rate, and I am committed to working with my colleagues to take action to promote maternal and prenatal health care and nutrition access across the country.”

Adams, Underwood, and Hoyer are all members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. The caucus was founded by Adams and Underwood, who launched the initiative in April. The caucus helps raise awareness of Black maternal health in Congress, as the maternal death rate is nearly four times higher for Black women than white women. Black women accounted for 40 deaths per 100,000 live births, while white women accounted for 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2011 and 2014, according to the CDC.

In April, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled a plan during the She the People forum that would make childbirth safer for Black women. The Democratic presidential hopeful proposed that the hospitals who lower the maternal mortality rates would receive bonuses while the institutions that do not will have their funds decreased. While discussing her plan during the forum, Warren said “prejudice” is the reason that mortality rates for Black women are so high.

“The best studies that I’ve seen put it down to just one thing: prejudice,” Warren said during the forum. “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.