Ariama C. Long photo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and U.S. Rep Yvette Clarke joined the Olori Sisterhood at Brookdale Hospital this Thursday, Nov. 11, in pushing for the Black Maternal Health ‘Momnibus’ Act to be kept in the Build Back Better Bill as cuts to resources loom.

The Momnibus Act is a package of bills that strives to address the staggering national maternal health crisis, and works to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities for Black and Brown moms in the healthcare system.

“This legislation must, must be included in the house bill and passed through the Senate reconciliation process,” said Clarke, who co-chairs the Caucus on Black Women and Girls, “The only other option is failure to support women. This bill will deliberately adjust disparities of internal health care faced by pregnant women from racial and ethnic minority groups.”

At the moment, explained Schumer, the House passed the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, but it’s the Senate’s job to cut it down to save money before it gets approved and signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Schumer plans on keeping every nickel he can in support of rooting out the causes of maternal deaths among women of color across socio-economic lines in this country. “It’s a huge crisis in America and frankly it’s one of the shames of America,” said Schumer. 

Considering its wealth, America is still ranked last in the developed world for maternal mortality, and it gets worse when viewed through the lens of race. NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) released a report in December 2020 about the city’s severe maternal morbidity rates. Morbidity is when a life-threatening event occurs during or after childbirth, like blood clots, heavy bleeding, or stroke. 

The report stated that Black and Hispanic women are more likely to have deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth. And based on research, the stress of racism plus “longstanding and intentional disinvestment” within communities of color and their hospitals are the root causes of these and other health inequities.

“That is abysmal, that is a disgrace that should make every American hang his or her head in shame. We have to change it,” said Schumer.

Clarke said the disparities women of color face need not be inevitable. With proper attention and funding many of the issues that cause maternal deaths are traceable, reducible, and can even be eliminated.

The Momnibus Act already has support from over 240 organizations, according to Clarke. The legislation promises to provide more training for hospital staff to avoid maternal deaths, diversify the perinatal workforce, create more funding for local organizations doing patient-level work, and demand more data collection on maternal mortality and morbidity rates. 

Executive Director of Brooklyn Perinatal Network Ngozi Moses said she has spent the last 35 years leading community efforts to reduce maternal deaths. Moses said that organizations like hers should be thoroughly undergirded.  

Another key component of the act is to expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant women, new moms, practicing midwives and doulas, and institute a year-long postpartum program.

Brooklyn Assembly member Latrice Walker was fighting to keep the maternity ward at Brookdale Hospital a few years ago. She wholeheartedly supports the Momnibus Act, especially given her own experience with childbirth. 

“The excuse that I was given was, ‘you won’t feel the labor pains in order to push so we cannot give you this medication that would subside some of the pain and relieve some of the pressure that you’re feeling,’” said Walker, “Again, going back to this false concept that Black women have this superpower with respect to the level of pain that we are able to endure.” 

Walker said that she was denied for the most part an epidural and pain medication during labor and opted for a doula the second time around. She said a doula was much more supportive and made for a better experience while she was in the hospital.

In addition to more benefits, the act will study and address the impacts of COVID-19 and climate change on maternal and infant health as well as provide funding for stable housing for pregnant women and new moms, look at transportation barriers for moms, access to social services, and extend WIC or access to nutritious foods for new moms in food deserts, said Clarke in closing her remarks. 

“This Momnibus is a bus women of all backgrounds have been waiting to board,” said Clarke, “and we cannot afford to miss it because women have been waiting far too long to reach their rightful destination in the United States of America.”

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America Corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w 

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