In New York City, Black women are eight times more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy complications, according to a new report released Thursday by the public advocate’s office.
“This report details the causes of maternal morbidity, the deep disparities in who receives adequate care and who faces greatest pain and tragedy,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, whose report, “Equitable Pregnancy Outcomes for Black and Brown New Yorkers,” details healthcare disparities that contribute to the maternal morbidity on both the local and national level.
“When I first began working on issues of Black and Brown maternal health, and on these bills, I had no idea how personally it would affect my family — but I knew, I had met and spoken with, the families of so many who had experienced inequity and tragic loss,” said Williams, who, earlier this week, shared in an exclusive interview with PIX11 that he and his wife, India Sneed, have had a tumultuous journey to pregnancy themselves.
Years after the birth of her daughter, doctors discovered pre-cancerous cells on Sneed’s cervix, and pushed her to get a hysterectomy. After trying their hardest to conceive despite the odds, and after a devastating miscarriage, Sneed is now five months pregnant — and living with cervical cancer.
“This report details the causes of maternal morbidity, the deep disparities in who receives adequate care and who faces greatest pain and tragedy,” Williams said Thursday. “It tells the stories behind the statistics, and highlights solutions that can save lives. It is critical, it is urgent, that we pass these bills in the City Council, and continue the work on a state and federal level, to help promote health and prevent tragedy from pre to post-pregnancy.”
The report recommends that the City Council pass a slate of maternal health bills introduced by the public advocate, including legislation which would establish a maternal health bill of rights, and require employers to hold an onboarding meeting to discuss an employee’s reintegration back into the workplace after parental leave.
The report also urges the passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, legislation tucked into the country’s larger Build Back Better package which would make historic investments to promote maternal health equity across the country.
At a Nov. 11 press conference at Brownsville’s Brookdale Hospital, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also called for its passage, as well as the expansion of Medicaid for mothers to include yearlong postpartum coverage and doula and midwife services.
“We’re here to talk about one of the greatest health crises America faces, but it doesn’t get enough focus, enough attention or enough dollars,” Schumer said, standing alongside Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke, Assemblymembers Latrice Walker and Stefani Zinerman, members of the Olori Sisterhood and other Black women leading the charge for equitable healthcare.
“It’s not COVID-19 [we’re talking about,]” he said. “We’re talking about a crisis that’s been going on decades and decades longer, and that is the maternal health crisis.”
The senate majority leader stressed Thursday that the maternal health crisis is “only further exasperated for expectant women of color in New York,” where women are nearly three times more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity than white women.
Among 11 developed countries, the United States ranks last in the developed world for maternal mortality, according to a recent report from The Commonwealth Fund. “When compared to all the countries in the world, we are 50/50,” Schumer told the room. “That is abysmal.”
“This legislation must — must, must must — be included in the House bill and passed through the senate reconciliation process,” said Clarke, who represents parts of Central and South Brooklyn, and co-chairs the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls. “The only other option is failure to support women.”
Congress passed President Biden’s bi-partisan infrastructure package — which includes the Momnibus Act — on Friday, and Schumer has said Democrats aim to pass the $1 trillion package by Thanksgiving.
He vowed Thursday to fight to keep all of the components of the expansive maternal health legislation in tact.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “It is time to invest in our moms, pass life-saving legislation to vastly improve national maternal health outcomes, support local maternal health organizations, and eliminate the unconscionable racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes that hurt minority women and families.”