RACIAL DISPARITIES IN MATERNAL MORTALITY

By Bob Katzen

The House and Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill that would create a special commission to examine and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in the death of mothers before, during and after childbirth.

The commission would look for problems and solutions by examining evidence-based practices, including approaches taken by other states or grass-roots organizations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality or severe maternal morbidity; barriers to accessing prenatal and postpartum care, how that care is delivered and the quality of that care; and how historical and current structural, institutional and individual forms of racism, including implicit bias or discrimination, affect the incidence and prevalence of maternal mortality in communities of color.

“Despite our world-class health care system, Massachusetts is experiencing a maternal mortality and morbidity crisis, in which Black and Brown mothers face life-threatening inequities,” said Rep. Kay Khan (D-Newton), House chair of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities and chief House sponsor of the measure. “I am proud that under Speaker Mariano and Senate President Spilka’s leadership, the Legislature prioritized the enactment of this bill to address structural racism and discrimination in our maternal health care system.”

“Even with the best institutions in the world right here in the commonwealth, maternal mortality is still a public health crisis that impacts all women, but particularly black women who die at twice the rate of white women in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Liz Miranda (D-Boston). “This legislation allows us to approach the maternal mortality crisis as both a racial justice and public health issue by seeking to understand both the socioeconomic determinants of health while also tackling the issue of racism head-on. Maternal justice is racial justice.”

“Black people giving birth in Massachusetts are twice as likely as white people to die due to complications during and after childbirth,” said Senate sponsor Sen. Becca Rausch (D–Needham). “We cannot allow that to stand, nor can we tackle a problem without understanding the full extent of its impact. The maternal health disparities commission established by this legislation will center the experiences of Black and Brown birthing people and directly enable the crafting and enactment of legislation that combats these stark health inequities and advances affordable, accessible and safe maternal health care regardless of race or zip code.”

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