Not all presidential promises are kept, but VP Kamala Harris is proving to keep one in particular at the forefront of her White House initiatives. In December of last year, Harris hosted the very first Maternal Health Day of Action. It was then that she issued a call for change around maternal health for both parents and infants, especially for Black families.
“In our nation, we are looking at the fact that more women are facing death because of childbirth than in any other developed nation,” Harris told journalists on Thursday. “We are looking at the likelihood that Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth, that Native women are twice as likely to die, that rural women are one and a half times more likely to die.”
This past week, the nation observed Black Maternal Health Week. And while President Joe Biden officially issued a proclamation for it this year, the women behind the Black Mamas Matter Alliance have been working to get this level of recognition for years. According to the website, “The Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA) is a Black women-led cross-sectoral alliance that centers Black mamas and birthing people to advocate, drive research, build power, and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights, and justice.”
VP Harris is now taking the torch, using her presidential pull to ensure that Black maternal health remains a focus, and that real change is made.
In 2018, the then Senator introduced the first congressional resolution recognizing Black Maternal Health Week alongside Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C. Adams and Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill then founded The Black Maternal Health Caucus.
“The maternal health crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save lives and advance birth equity across the country,” Underwood said.
In a statement released last week, Senator Cory Booker underscored this urgency.
“Our nation is experiencing a maternal mortality crisis,” he said. “The United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any wealthy nations, which has rapidly increased during the past years and continues to disproportionately impact Black birthing people who more often encounter the systemic inequalities of our broken health care system. To improve Black maternal health outcomes, this resolution calls on Congress to implement a comprehensive approach that provides Black communities with economic support, environmental justice, and access to high-quality, affordable health care.”
On Friday, Booker along with Reps. Adams, Underwood, Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., introduced the Mamas First Act to expand Medicaid to include doula, midwifery and tribal midwifery care.
VP Harris has plans to invest around half a billion federal dollars into reducing maternal mortality and morbidity rates. In addition to federal proposals, she is also urging state lawmakers to tackle the issue as well.
In additional statement Harris said: The more we can elevate this issue, I think the more we will accomplish that, which is to let women know that when it comes to their reproductive health, when it comes to their pregnancy and anything that they are experiencing in connection with that, they do not have to suffer, and they certainly must not silently suffer, because there is a whole system that has been designed to help them. And so, let’s hold the system accountable to do its job.”