NC lawmaker creates Black Maternal Health Caucus to address crisis

Push to address maternal health for black mothers

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of a pregnancy-related death is three to four times higher for black women than it is for white women.

Today, members of congress are promising to try and tackle this issue. Congresswoman Alma Adams, who represents Charlotte, stood in front of the capitol this morning to launch the Black Maternal Health Caucus.

“Launching the caucus sends a message that we are very concerned about the disparity as it relates to maternal health and African American women,” she said. “That African American women and giving birth and being successful at giving birth and having healthy children is an important issue for this congress and for our country."

Adams says the caucus will raise awareness within Congress as well as nationally when it comes to the maternal health of black women. The point of the caucus is to raise awareness of the problem, start a national conversation and pass legislation to protect black mothers.

“One of the former presidents of Bennett College used to tell me is that we’re here to interrupt ignorance,” Rep. Adams said. “And if there are folks that don’t understand what’s going on in terms of African American women and this whole issue around maternal health, we’re going to educate them.”

Several of Adams’ fellow lawmakers who stood beside her Tuesday did so out of more than just solidarity. They have a personal tie to black maternal health. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois is a nurse and former health official under the Obama administration.

A classmate of hers at Johns Hopkins, Shalon Irving collapsed and died three weeks after childbirth. Irving was well to-do and an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the preeminent public health institution in the U.S..

She died from complications from postpartum hypertension. Hers was just one of many that could have been prevented.

Lawmakers form Black Maternal Health Caucus

Rep. Barbara Lee of California revealed at Tuesday’s announcement that her mother nearly died giving birth to her. She said, because of legal segregation, her mother wasn’t able to go to the white-only hospital which was better equipped to deal with maternal complications.

The more than 30-member caucus says an effort at the national level is long overdue and will also try to pass related legislation. It will be working with advocates like Black Mamas Matter Alliance, which has been discussing the maternal mortality crisis for some time.

Passing laws is what the organization’s founder, Elizabeth Gay wants to see from the caucus.

“One of our great hopes is for there to be really strong legislation that would address the variety of issues that black mamas are facing,” said Gay. “Recognizing and working to eliminate obstetric violence, disrespect, neglect, abuse, mistreatment and ensuring that all black mamas have access to high quality care.”

The group has outlined a list of priorities for members of Congress to consider: include black women leaders and black-led organizations when writing legislation, eliminate abuse and mistreatment in health care, and push for financial access to high quality care.

The group also urges members of Congress to actually cite racism as the reason why black women are dying during or shortly after child birth.

The second national Black Maternal Health Week, created by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, will take place April 11 through the 17. I’ll be doing a special series of stories on black maternal health. I’ve been working on them for weeks and I’m excited to shine a light on this crisis - because our black mothers are in crisis. The disparities between black and white mothers is vast and we’re digger deeper.

You can see my reports starting Thursday, April 11 on WBTV.

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