July 22, 2020

Kaine, Murkowski, Sewell Introduce Legislation To Reduce Maternal And Infant Mortality, Address Racial Inequities In Maternal Health

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Mothers and Newborns Success Act, legislation to help reduce the egregious racial inequities in maternal and infant mortality. Congresswoman Terri Sewell (AL-07) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives today. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the maternal mortality rate for Black women in 2018 was more than 2.5 times higher than the maternal mortality rate of white women, and the infant mortality rate of babies born to Black women is more than 2.3 times higher than the infant mortality rate of babies born to white women. American Indian/Alaska Native women are more than twice as likely as white women to die as a result of pregnancy or its complications. This legislation will help tackle these significant inequities by strengthening support for women during and after pregnancy, promoting maternal health research and data collection, and ensuring women are better matched with birthing facilities that meet their specific needs. This legislation comes as COVID-19 disproportionately harms communities of color and recent research from the CDC finds that pregnant women with COVID-19 are more likely to be hospitalized and admitted to the ICU.

“No woman should have to fear for her or her child’s health because of her race,” Kaine said. “Racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality have gone unaddressed for far too long. We need to ensure more women of color and their children, particularly Black women and children, receive equitable care. COVID-19 and its impact on pregnant women has only underscored the need for urgent action. I’m calling on my Senate colleagues to support this bill and include it in the next coronavirus relief package so we can enact positive systemic changes to make sure more women and newborns thrive and have the maximum chance for success.”

“There are significant racial and ethnic inequities in maternal and infant mortality rates in the U.S. According to the data, American Indian and Alaska Native women are experiencing an alarming rate of maternal mortality: they are three to four times more likely than white women to die of complications related to pregnancy and/or childbirth. These reoccurring statistics combined with the news that pregnant women are more vulnerable to COVID-19, are strong signals that we need to shore up support for maternal health,” said Murkowski. “I’m proud to help lead legislation that aims to reduce maternal and infant mortality, ensure that all infants can grow up healthy and safe. We need to protect women’s health before, during, and after pregnancy.”

“The racial disparities that we are seeing in COVID-19 outcomes are representative of the persistent disparities in health care overall and, especially, maternal mortality rates. It is unacceptable that in Alabama women die from pregnancy and childbirth complications at more than double the rate of women nationally, and Black women die at rates almost five times higher than that of white women,” Sewell said. “We truly are in a crisis and need the substantial investments in research and delivery of care included in the Mothers and Newborns Success Act to help save moms and end disparities.”

The Mothers and Newborns Success Act would:

  • Codify the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) State Maternal Health Innovation Program and the Supporting Maternal Health Innovation Program to assist states in implementing actions to address disparities in maternal health and improve maternal health outcomes.
  • Establish a pilot program through HRSA to better support women’s health in the postpartum period.
  • Establish a National Maternal Health Research Network at the NIH to support innovative research to reduce maternal mortality and promote maternal health.
  • Support HRSA’s Rural Maternity and Obstetric Management Strategies (RMOMS) Program to improve access to and continuity of obstetrics care in rural communities, including thorough use of telehealth.
  • Establish a public and provider awareness campaign through the CDC to promote awareness of maternal health warning signs and the importance of vaccinations for pregnant women and children.
  • Support CDC’s work to classify birthing facilities based on the level of risk-appropriate maternal and neonatal care to improve care delivery and health outcomes for expectant mothers and their infants.
  • Support CDC’s efforts to implement quality assurance processes to improve the validity of pregnancy checkbox data from death certificates to help provide more accurate data on maternal deaths.  
  • Support CDC’s data collection on maternal attitudes and experiences during the pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum periods as well as efforts to provide technical assistance to states to ensure representation of communities of color in key datasets.

Senator Kaine has long focused his efforts on addressing the Black maternal health crisis, including hosting several roundtables across Virginia over the past year in Hampton, Oakton, and Lynchburg. Senator Kaine has also cosponsored Senator Harris’s Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act to create two new grant programs focused on reducing racial disparities in maternal health.  

The Mothers and Newborns Success Act is supported by the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs; the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; March of Dimes; the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine; Dr. Jamila Taylor, Director of Health Care Reform and Senior Fellow for the Century Foundation; Black Mamas Matter Alliance; the Society for Women's Health Research; the American College of Nurse-Midwives; In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda; National Crittenton; National Partnership for Women & Families; MomsRising; Urban Baby Beginnings; Community Catalyst; Preeclampsia Foundation; Birth in Color RVA; Families Forward Virginia; Eastern Virginia Medical School; Health Collaborative (Danville); the Virginia Rural Health Association; Northern Virginia Family Service; Central Virginia Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association; National Coalition of 100 Black Women - Virginia Chapters (Charlottesville, Prince William, Northern Virginia, Tidewater & Richmond); Dr. Alice Freeman of Healthy Hearts Plus II: Mommies, Bellies, Babies and Daddies and author of “A Mother’s Justice”; HOPE for Mom and Baby Registry; Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition of Georgia; and members of the Adult Vaccine Access Coalition.

“AMCHP commends Senators Kaine and Murkowski for introducing the Mothers and Newborns Success Act and especially recognizes Senator Kaine’s thoughtful intention in crafting this bill through meaningful stakeholder engagement, including multiple roundtables on the topic of maternal health last year in which we were honored to participate.  This bill takes several steps to improve maternal and newborn health by investing in innovation, enhancing our understanding of the pregnancy experience, improving our attention to the postpartum period and supporting important research efforts,” said Jonathan Webb, CEO of Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs (AMCHP).

“As the leading organization for women’s health physicians, ACOG is proud to endorse Sen. Kaine and Sen. Murkowski’s bill, as it will allow us to move a step closer to eliminating preventable maternal deaths. At a time when racial health inequities have worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mothers and Newborns Success Act aims to address many of the key factors that can lead to better birth outcomes for women, and Black women in particular,” said American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) President Eva Chalas, MD, FACOG, FACS. "This timely bill will support programs to ensure that women and infants receive risk-appropriate care, address inequities in mental health and maternal health outcomes, improve CDC data collection efforts, and build on the short-term successes we’ve seen with increased use and access to telehealth during the pandemic. We need Congress to focus on maternal health issues now, more than ever, and we applaud Sen. Kaine and Sen. Murkowski’s leadership in making this a continued priority.“ 

“We commend Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Lisa Murkowski for introducing the Mothers and Newborns Success Act, which will provide evidence-based policies to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and further elevate the health disparities facing pregnant women of color and their babies,” said Ariel González, March of Dimes Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs. “The fact that over 700 women die each year in the U.S. from pregnancy-related causes is unacceptable when almost two-thirds of these maternal deaths are preventable. Now is the time to enact policies that will eliminate disparities and improve health outcomes for all moms and babies.”

“Improving maternal health, preventing maternal deaths, and eliminating inequities in outcomes for mothers of color requires a comprehensive federal response. The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine thanks Sen. Kaine and Sen. Murkowski for introducing legislation, the Mothers and Newborns Success Act, that seeks to address ongoing crisis through enhanced public health programs, improved care for underserved populations, and research focused on maternal health. We are especially grateful the bill authorizes a dedicated Maternal Health Research Network. Bolstering the work of existing research networks like the Maternal Fetal Medicine Units Network is essential to advance our understanding of what causes adverse pregnancy outcomes and how to prevent them,” said Judette Lewis, MD, MPH, President, Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

"The Mothers and Newborns Success Act would help improve health care delivery, as well as maternal and infant health outcomes. As the country contends with vast racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality, as well as unequal treatment of people of color in the health care system, Senate leadership is essential to helping address these challenges and help mothers and their babies thrive. I  am proud to see fellow Virginian Senator Kaine, as well as Senator Murkowski, attack this health crisis head on,” said Dr. Jamila Taylor, Director of Health Care Reform and Senior Fellow for the Century Foundation.

"Black women are dying at an alarming rate — in Virginia and across the country — from preventable, pregnancy-related complications. We must take urgent and meaningful action to end this crisis by addressing the systemic racism baked into the healthcare industry and the social safety net,” said Marcela Howell, president & CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda. “ Everyone should have access to reproductive health care, no matter who they are or where they live. This bill is an important step toward addressing the racial disparities that literally are killing Black women and pregnant people." 

You can view the full text of the Mothers and Newborns Success Act here. You can view a one-pager here.

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