“It should be a miracle, but for many Black women, it’s not,” said New York City Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson. “What we are doing is addressing health care injustice.”
Gibson was referring to one of six bi-partisan bills passed that address maternal and mental health. One of those bills is Int. No. 2042-A, which Gibson co-sponsored, that tackles the issue of death via complications from pregnancy, particularly for women of color.
The bill requires the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to post information about licensed midwives online and include services they offer and their contact information.
The bill would go into effect immediately.
According to a study from the medical journal The Lancet last December, midwife-delivered interventions could reduce maternal death by 41%, neonatal deaths by 39%, and stillbirths by 26%, which equates to 2.2 million deaths averted each year by 2035.
“It’s really important in our climate to talk about equity and justice and, so far, not too many Black and Latina women haven gotten justice,” said Gibson.
Between 700-900 American women die and approximately 65,000 suffer potentially mortal complications from pregnancy or childbirth. According to the Center for Disease Control and Preventions, Black women in the United States are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women. It’s starker in New York City where Black women are eight to twelve times more likely to die from childbirth than white women.
The CDC reports also revealed that cardiovascular issues, pulmonary embolism and hemorrhages are the leading causes of maternal deaths. The maternal mortality rate in the country has more than doubled since 1987 and is trending upwards the past several years.
Gibson pointed to the recent deaths of Sha-Asia Washington in Brooklyn and Amber Rose Isaac in the Bronx as reasons for the legislations’ importance.
Four days before her death, Isaac, 26, wrote on Twitter that she was going to write about dealing with “incompetent doctors.” Washington, also 26, died from complications during childbirth. There were reports of Washington coming to the hospital with high blood pressure, but she allegedly wasn’t given any medication to address it.
Recent government data revealed that the overall mortality rate in the U.S. increased in 2019. Congresswoman Robin Kelly (IL-02), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, said that complications have made it difficult for women, and women of color specifically, to access proper assistance during
childbirth and pregnancies.
“Maternal mortality is a tragic and worsening crisis in our country, and this newly released data is a deafening alarm warning us that we need to do more,” stated Kelly. “Each mother who passes away from complications of childbirth leaves behind a hole in our families and in our communities. Many maternal deaths are preventable, and we must continue pushing for policies that make it safer for women, and especially women of color, to give birth.”
Gibson’s home borough, the Bronx, suffers from maternal mortalities at an alarming rate. A recent report from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s “Bronx Maternal Mortality Taskforce” showed that in 2014, the overall maternal mortality rate in the borough was 36.2 deaths per 100,0005 as compared with 18.9 deaths per 100,000 citywide between 2011-2015.
The report also discussed the quality of the hospitals Black women in the U.S. tend to patronize.
“Simply put, Black women are more likely to deliver their children in lower quality hospitals than white women are, even controlling for socio-economic status,” read the report. “One quarter of the nation’s hospitals account for 75% of Black women’s deliveries, but the same hospitals only account for 18% of white women’s deliveries.”
Gibson said that the city needs to work with doulas and midwives and also establish a birthing center in every borough and while she’s overwhelmed by the legislation’s approval, she hopes that stories like Isaac’s and Washington’s don’t happen again.
“It affects women and families and children and until it happens to you, everyone doesn’t have a sympathetic ear,” said Gibson. “But I don’t want you to wait until someone close to you is hurt.
“To me, this bill is a start,” she concluded.