For Immediate Release: February 22, 2019
Sacramento – Today, NARAL Pro-Choice California joined Black Women for Wellness, ACT for Women and Girls, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty to introduce landmark legislation to reduce the rates of Black maternal mortality and morbidity by addressing institutional racism in perinatal healthcare services.
The California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act (SB 464), authored by Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) would require all perinatal healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, midwives and frontline personnel, to participate in an implicit bias training designed to curtail the impact of bias on maternal health, and improve California data collection to better track and understand pregnancy-related deaths.
“Although California has made considerable progress in reducing maternal mortality rates overall, it is outrageous that Black women here at home are still dying at three to four times the rate of everyone else,” said NARAL Pro-Choice California State Director Amy Everitt. “When it comes to reproductive freedom, we pride ourselves on leading the nation. But we cannot celebrate until we have true equity in quality and access to healthcare.”
Black women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than the average Californian. According to a 2018 report released by the California Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Board, Black women made up 5% of the birth cohort in California, but 21% of pregnancy-related deaths. The same report showed that 41% of all California pregnancy deaths had a good to strong chance of preventability.
“While California has made great strides in decreasing maternal mortality, as long as Black women are dying at four times the rate of white women, Black women are not receiving adequate care,” Senator Holly J. Mitchell said. “SB 464 aims to correct this by requiring all medical professionals involved in childbirth to be trained in implicit bias and improving the data we collect on maternal health during childbirth.”
Access to prenatal care, socioeconomic status, and physical health do not fully explain the disparity seen in Black women maternal mortality and morbidity rates. In fact, middle to high-income Black mothers have worse birthing outcomes than white women in abject poverty. There is a growing body of evidence that Black women are often treated unfairly and unequally in the healthcare system.
“There is no reason in a state with the 5th largest economy in the world that we have black women dying in childbirth at rates on par with impoverished developing countries,” Assemblymember Weber said. “These preventable deaths are not limited to poor black women either, but are an issue regardless of economic background or educational attainment. So we are forced to confront the real effects of systemic racism in healthcare and be unflinching in our efforts to address them.”
SB 464 is cosponsored by ACT for Women and Girls, Black Women for Wellness, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
“More and more studies are showing that racial or other implicit biases contribute to the egregious rate of pregnancy related deaths of Black women,” said Nourbese Flint, Policy Director of Black Women for Wellness. “If we ever are going to truly tackle the inequities in healthcare we have to start tackling the root causes.”
“Equitable and dignified healthcare is crucial in rural communities. We are obligated to address life-threatening racial bias at the doctor’s office or in hospitals. No black woman or child should feel unsafe in the company of their medical provider,” said Sarah K. Hutchinson, ACT for Women and Girls.
“The link between racial inequity and poverty in our society is undeniable,” said Jen Flory, Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law & Poverty. “If we cannot address the racial inequities in our healthcare system, we will not reduce the health disparities that are so prevalent.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America and its network of state affiliates are dedicated to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom for all Americans. NARAL works to guarantee that every woman has the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion. In recognition of its work defending our constitutional right to choose, Fortune Magazine described NARAL as “one of the top 10 advocacy groups in America.
ACT for Women and Girls builds power with young people in California’s Central Valley through youth-led community organizing, grassroots campaigns, and local & state policy change to reflect true reproductive justice for rural communities.
Black Women for Wellness is a non profit committed the empowerment health and well-being of Black women and girls in California through research, advocacy, program, civic engagement and popular education.
Western Center on Law & Poverty fights for justice and system-wide change to secure housing, health care, racial justice and a strong safety net for low-income Californians.