CHICAGO — Every year as many as 700 women die due to pregnancy in the United States, so now, two Illinois lawmakers have reintroduced the MOMMA Act.
The act, which stands for “Mothers and Offspring Mortality and Morbidity Awareness” calls for more money for prenatal care and training for health care providers.
Given the advancements the country has made in health care when it comes to the treatment of diseases such as cancer and heart disease, Sen. Dick Durbin called it “an embarrassment and a challenge" that women and children are losing their lives in such high numbers.
“Every year more than 23,000 infants die in the U.S. largely due to factors that could be treated or prevented, birth defects, pre-term birth low, low birth weight and maternal complications,” he said.
The United States currently ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations on earth when it comes to infant mortality. Maternal mortality, the mother’s death rate, is worse now than it was 25 years ago, according to Durbin.
“The tragedy of maternal and infant mortality is even more pronounced when you look at mothers and babies of color,” he said.
Durbin noted that nationally, more than 700 women die every year as a result of pregnancy and women of color are three to four more likely to die than white women. In Illinois, the numbers are even more shocking, between 2008 and 2016, an average of 73 women died each year within one year of pregnancy. For black women the numbers are even higher — they are six times as likely to die of pregnancy-related conditions. Seventy percent or more are preventable according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
“Too often black women are not listened to or taken seriously by health care providers,” Durbin said.
“All mommas deserve the chance to be mommas,” Congresswoman Robin Kelly said.
To improve those chances, Kelly and Durbin have reintroduced the MOMMA Act, which seeks to lower the country’s rising maternal and infant mortality rates and reduce racial disparities in health outcomes by expanding Medicaid coverage for mothers up to a year after giving birth, improving coverage and access to doulas, improving best practices for maternity care and improving implicit bias and cultural competency training among health care providers.
Kelly referenced the near death experience of tennis superstar Serena Williams who publicly wrote about almost dying from blood clots after giving birth to her daughter. She credits the access she had to high quality health care and dedicated doctors. But she pointed out how not everyone has the same thing and called for racial inequities to be addressed in maternal health care.
Dr. Nicole Williams with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said bias in medicine is one major factor that needs to be addressed.
“It’s not obesity, it’s not high blood pressure it’s not being African or being of African descent, it’s certainly not economic or educational status, the answer has everything to do with simply being a black woman in America, she said.
Durbin noted that many of these death can be prevented with the right screenings, the right interventions and the right health care.
The bill will be formally introduced in the House and Senate next week, and Illinois lawmakers are calling for bipartisan support for it.