Senator Kamala Harris addresses black maternal mortality crisis in new bill
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Pregnancy-related issues are killing black women at disproportionately higher rates than white women, and Sen. Kamala Harris stepped out on the front lines of the public health crisis by introducing a bill that would address disparities in maternal mortality.

Black women die from childbirth-related complications three to four times more than white women.

On Aug. 22, the California Democrat introduced the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act, which would provide a yearly $30 million in grants to train against racial bias and encourage health care professionals to address the facts.

“Health equity for black women can only happen if we recognize and address persistent biases in our health system,” Harris said in a release. “This bill is a step towards ensuring that all women have access to culturally competent, holistic care, and to address the implicit biases in our system.”

Implicit bias is a race-based stereotype that affects how people think or act toward someone, and it could be part of the black maternal mortality issue that Harris wants the medical community to recognize.

“A large part of it is the biases that exist in the medical health professions that lead to these women not being taken seriously,” said Harris, the only black woman serving in the U.S. Senate, in a Los Angeles Time article. “Frankly, there are a lot of biases that exist .… It’s a truth, uncomfortable as it may be.”

The United States is one of 13 countries worldwide where the overall maternal mortality rate is worse than it was 25 years ago. The pregnancy-related mortality ratio, which is defined as deaths per 100,000 live births, rose from 7.2 in 1987 to 18 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reason for the increase is unclear, and the problem is even more severe for black women.

Between 2011 and 2014, there were 40 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births among black women compared to 12.4 for white women, according to the CDC. There were 17.8 deaths for women of other races.

The Maternal CARE Act would add new grant programs and incorporate bias recognition into medical schools. The grant programs are broken down as follows:

$5 million for bias training at medical schools and health programs, with a priority on obstetrics and gynecology programs; and $25 million for states to incentivize healthcare providers to reduce mortality rates and racial disparities. – Los Angeles Times

The black maternal health issue has gained a lot of recent attention, especially after figures such as Beyonce and Serena Williams shared their personal struggles with childbirth’s life-threatening complications.

Earlier this year, Harris designated April 11-17 as Black Maternal Health Week to shed more light on the topic. The week was headed by Black Mamas Matter Alliance, an advocacy group that supports the Maternal CARE Act.

“We applaud Senator Harris on putting forward this critical legislation and appreciate her commitment to ending racial disparities in maternal health care and outcomes,” said Elizabeth Gay, the Co-Director of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, in a release. “Addressing racial discrimination and implicit bias is an important but often overlooked part of improving maternal health in the United States. We are grateful for Senator Harris’ brave leadership.”

Read more on the bill HERE.