Hospitals across the state must admit any woman in pre-term labor regardless of their insurance or ability to pay, according to a new law proposed by a Brooklyn legislator.
The Jonah Bichotte Cowan law bars hospitals from refusing to admit women who are in labor prematurely — a practice that Black women tend to experience, said the bill’s sponsor.
“I went to the top doctors, I went to a top medical hospital, and still I was treated awful,” said Rodneyse Bichotte, a Flatbush assemblywoman who lost her newborn baby in 2016 days after being denied pre-term labor care. “This bill hopefully will wake everybody up and really address the disparities in Black maternal care and Black infant care.”
Bichotte went into labor five-and-a-half months into her pregnancy, but doctors at NewYork Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Hospital refused to admit her unless she chose to terminate her child, she told Brooklyn Paper.
And although she was several centimeters dilated, the hospital said that her insurance would not cover her pre-term labor costs and that they needed the bed for another patient.
Doctors also did not believe Bichotte was in labor or in pain, she said.
“They said, ‘The baby’s fine.’ So then they checked, and that’s when they saw they said I was dilating,” she explained.
Bichotte was admitted to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Bushwick that same day. Seven days later, she gave birth to her son, Jonah Bichotte Cowan, who died within hours of his birth.
Bichotte’s son might have survived if NewYork-Presbyterian hadn’t discharged her, Bichotte said.
“There would have been a higher percentage of my baby living maybe if I was at bed rest [when I was dilating],” she said. “That would have allowed the baby to receive intervention more readily.”
Denying pre-term labor care isn’t the only way hospitals neglect Black women’s pregnancy needs. New York City’s Health Department found that Black women suffer disproportionately from pregnancy complications and are eight to 12 times more likely than white women to die in childbirth. Even college-educated Black women like Bichotte are more likely to suffer near-fatal births than non-Black women without a college degree, according to a 2016 study.
Bichotte, who also heads the Brooklyn Democratic Party, introduced the bill named after her son into the state Assembly in 2018. The legislation passed the Assembly and Senate in July and was signed by Cuomo on Dec. 22.
“I am ecstatic,” Bichotte said. “I am overwhelmed with joy to know that we finally have language that will have hospitals implement protocols for the safety of expectant mothers who are facing pre-term labor risk.”
Bichotte says she’ll continue introducing legislation to close the racial disparities in maternal health.
“We’ll think of all the women who died and all the babies who died as a result of neglect, and we owe it to them to fight,” she said.