The U.S. faces a maternal health crisis, with Black women more than three times more likely to die than white women from pregnancy complications. Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW)—which is held annually April 11-17—is a national week of action that aims to raise awareness around racial inequities in maternal health in the United States.
For the second year in a row, the Biden-Harris Administration issued a proclamation formally recognizing BMHW, which demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to improving maternal health outcomes, particularly for Black people across the U.S.
Founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), Black Maternal Health Week is a week of awareness, activism, and community-building. The Center is a founding partner of BMMA, a national network of maternal health, reproductive justice, and birth justice leaders.
To help raise awareness, BMMA has issued a social media toolkit highlighting some of the racial disparities in maternal health.
In addition to higher rates of maternal death, in the U.S., Black women:
- Disproportionately lack access to primary and reproductive health care—including contraception, abortion, fertility care, STI screenings, and reproductive cancer screenings—leaving them vulnerable to many risk factors around pregnancy.
- Are 22% more likely to receive lower quality health care than white women and are subject to discrimination in the health care field.
- Are twice as likely as white women to suffer severe maternal morbidity—a pregnancy complication so severe that the patient nearly dies and may experience short- or long-term harms to their health as a result.
Center Initiative Advances Policies to Improve U.S. Maternal Health
Through the Center’s Maternal Health and Rights Initiative, which focuses on improving maternal health equity and outcomes in the U.S., the Center collaborates with BMMA and its partners on proactive and progressive maternal health policy.
“Everyone, everywhere deserves the right to decide what is best for their bodies and health,” said Breana Lipscomb, the Center’s Senior Advisor, Maternal Health and Rights. “Through our Initiative, we cultivate deep partnerships with leaders from communities most impacted by this issue in order to effect change.”
In Georgia, the Center and its allies have advocated to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months to one year. The Georgia General Assembly recently passed the measure, which awaits the governor’s signature and is an important step toward equitable access to high quality maternal health care in the state. In Georgia and across the U.S., the Center continues to work with partners to advance policies that ensure affordable access to community-based birth workers.
The Center is also proud to support the Mamas First Act—spearheaded by U.S. Representative Gwen Moore and U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren—a federal bill that would expand Medicaid coverage to include doulas and midwives, allowing all eligible birthing people to access potentially life-saving pregnancy and postpartum care and support.
Mississippi Abortion Ban Being Challenged at the Supreme Court Will Disproportionately Harm the Health of Black Women
Access to reproductive health care—whether abortion care or maternal health care—is critical for individuals and societies to prosper and thrive. In a case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a Mississippi abortion ban—which was brought by the Center—Black residents would be disproportionately impacted if the Court allows the ban to take effect. The Court is expected to rule on the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, before the end of its term in June.
Already, Mississippians must navigate some of the nation’s most complex restrictions around their right to abortion, including a mandatory waiting period and counseling, limitations on their reason for seeking abortion care, a requirement that minors receive parental consent before obtaining an abortion, and limited access to public funding for and private coverage of abortion services. These restrictions disproportionately harm those who already face discriminatory barriers to reproductive health care, such as Black people and those trying to make ends meet. Under such restrictive conditions, Black people and other people of color are more likely to face adverse pregnancy outcomes and are more likely to be punished and criminalized for them.
In March, while the Mississippi State Senate passed a bill that would have extended postpartum Medicaid coverage to one year with overwhelming bipartisan support, House leaders refused to bring it to a vote. Efforts are underway in the state to revive the bill, but leaders remain resistant.
In the state of Mississippi:
- 72% of abortion patients in Mississippi were Black, according to data from 2018.
- Black women are nearly three times more likely than white non-Hispanic women to die from pregnancy related causes.
- One in four adult women (aged 18-64) lives below the poverty line, the highest percentage of any state.
- If the 15-week ban were to take effect, the average one-way driving distance for a resident to reach any abortion clinic would increase by an estimated 495%, from 84 miles to 499 miles.
Black Maternal Health Week: What You Can Do