Today marks the beginning of the third annual Black Maternal Health Week, spearheaded by our partners at the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), a Black women-led organization that advocates for Black maternal health, rights, and justice. This week—a week that is about centering the voices and experiences of Black mothers—we join BMMA in an urgent call to action to address the gaping racial disparities in maternal health outcomes.
Especially amidst the COVID-19 public health crisis, which is disproportionately impacting Black Americans, it’s more important than ever we address the longstanding, structural disparities in our healthcare system and our policies. As data from past epidemics shows, pregnant women may face additional barriers to receiving adequate care as resources are stretched thin, which could worsen existing inequities for Black mothers and babies.
Alarmingly, Black mothers are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white mothers, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Black mothers are also more likely than white mothers to experience serious medical complications during pregnancy. Furthermore, the March of Dimes states that each year about 1 in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, placing them at a higher risk for severe health problems than babies born later. These inequities persist regardless of income or education level, and a growing body of evidence demonstrates that systemic racism and racial discrimination are major contributing factors that cause poor health outcomes for Black mothers.
Black women who work in low wage and physically demanding jobs also too often must risk their health at work when pregnant or after giving birth. Through our free legal helpline, we have heard from far too many Black women across the country who were denied modest pregnancy accommodations they needed like a modified schedule, a stool, or a water bottle. Black women are also less likely to have access to paid sick time or paid family leave. Gaps in our workplace policies to address these issues are a key contributor to the Black maternal health crisis.
We are proud to follow the lead of BMMA and other partners in dismantling systemic racism and fighting for equitable policies and systems of care that allow all Black mothers to thrive—during this crisis, and long after it’s over.
For more information on current efforts to provide stronger protections for workers during COVID-19, please visit our resource page here. Contact our free and confidential legal helpline if you are a worker and have questions about your particular needs.