Black Moms Run a Higher Risk of Death During Labor. Kamala Harris Just Introduced a Bill to Change That.

It also targets racial disparities in premature birth and other complications.

Associated Press

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

African American mothers die at almost four times the rate of white mothers and are much more likely to experience serious pregnancy complications. On Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and 13 other democratic senators introduced legislation aimed at improving outcomes for black mothers.

Harris’ bill, the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act, would provide $30 million to fund two new grant programs. One would train obstetric doctors and nurses to avoid making race-based medical decisions, and another would set up a new program in some states to improve prenatal care and reduce injuries and complications from pregnancy.  

Research suggests that chronic stress caused by experiencing racism may contribute to poor pregnancy outcomes for black mothers and their babies. As I reported in a recent piece on prematurity among black babies, the evidence is pretty compelling:

Scientists have known for decades that chronic stress can activate the cascade of hormones that kick-start labor. Everyone experiences stress, of course, but researchers think certain kinds of stress are more insidious than others. A 1997 study of nearly 60,000 black women found that mothers who said they experienced frequent and severe incidents of racism were at increased risk for preterm birth. Twenty years later, a new study suggested the problem went deeper—even feelings of racial oppression seemed to increase the risk. A team led by Paula Braveman, a family medicine specialist at the University of California-San Francisco, asked more than 10,000 mothers a single question: “How often have you worried that you might be treated or judged unfairly because of your race or ethnic group?” African American women who said they worried “very often” or “somewhat often” were twice as likely as other black women to have had a premature baby. The findings persisted even when adjusted for income, education, age, and medical risk factors. “We were quite floored,” Braveman recalls.

Harris, who many observers expect will run for president in 2020, has long made the fight against racial bias a top priority. She also has a history of working on women’s issues; as an attorney she defended women in sex trafficking suits. “Health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address persistent biases in our health system,” she said in a press release. “This bill is a step towards ensuring that all women have access to culturally competent, holistic care, and to address the implicit biases in our system.”

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate