Black Maternal Health Week Highlights COVID-19’s Impact on Black Pregnancy

Supermajority Education Fund

April 14, 2020

Black mothers are three to four times more likely to succumb to pregnancy-related deaths than white mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Black Mamas Matter Alliance launched the inaugural Black Maternal Health Week — held from April 11 to April 17 in 2018 to raise awareness about this reality. This year, advocates are leading online seminars about the factors that contribute to this high rate and solutions to prevent these outcomes. 

Black women are at a higher risk for factors that lead to pregnancy complications — including obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, according to data outlined by In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda — because Black Americans face unequal access to health care coverage and quality services in their communities. Black women also face medical racism, which can take the form of medical professionals ignoring black pregnant women when they try to advocate for their health and doctors who are culturally unaware of the issues black mothers face. Transgender and gender-non-conforming people are especially vulnerable because they are less likely to seek care over concerns of being mistreated, according to the National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda’s data

Black Maternal Health Week comes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left black mothers especially vulnerable. Black women are more likely to work essential jobs that put them on the front lines, Essence reported. The clinics that offer abortion care are also often the clinics where Black women go for pregnancy-related care — and governors in states like Ohio and Texas don’t consider these facilities as essential and want them to shut down.

“COVID-19 exacerbates the issues around Black maternal health,” Marcela Howell, the president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, told Supermajority News. “The fact that a disproportionate amount of black men and women are dying from the coronavirus raises this issue again about the inequities in healthcare.”

In recent years, Black women lawmakers have pushed bills to address Black maternal mortality. In 2018, Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies Act, which calls for health professional training programs that address racial bias in obstetrics and gynecology. In 2019, Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore introduced the Mamas First Act, which requires state Medicaid programs to cover doula and midwife services during prenatal, delivery, and postpartum stages. In 2019, Sen. Booker and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley introduced the MOMMIES ACT, which would extend Medicaid benefits and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for pregnant and postpartum women.

For Black women to have the healthy pregnancies they deserve, black communities need “adequate housing, transportation, nutritious food, clean water, environments that are free of toxins, a living wage, pay equity, as well as comprehensive healthcare,” Howell explained. “All of those things are linked together under reproductive justice, and you need to have all of those things to ensure that black women who are pregnant, get the kind of healthcare and support that they need.”