The U.S. continues to face a maternal health crisis, with rates of maternal deaths continuing to rise. The crisis disproportionately impacts Black women, who are nearly three times more likely to die than white women from pregnancy complications.
Black Maternal Health Week, held annually April 11–17, is a national week of action that aims to raise awareness around racial inequities in maternal health outcomes in the United States.
Founded by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA)—a national network of maternal health, reproductive justice, and birth justice leaders—the week celebrates awareness, activism, and community building and focuses on evidence-based solutions such as Black midwifery and doula care.
This year’s theme for Black Maternal Health Week is “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!” BMMA writes, “As we reckon with the upending of Roe v. Wade and the relentless attacks against reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, this year’s theme speaks to our strength, power and resilience, and our unassailable right to live freely, safely, and joyfully.”
Crisis in U.S. Maternal Health
- In 2021, U.S. maternal mortality rates jumped by 38.2%.
- The rate for Black women was 2.6 times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic white women.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with SisterSong, is an original convener and supporter of BMMA and continues to be a strategic partner.
“Black Maternal Health Week is an opportunity to celebrate the leadership and contributions of Black women and Black-led organizations in the fight for maternal health and wellness,” said Breana Lipscomb, the Center’s Senior Advisor for Maternal Health and Rights and Board of Directors Co-Chair for Black Mamas Matter Alliance. “We must center the lived experiences and expertise of Black birthing people, providers of care, and scholars in our efforts to advance proactive maternal health policy, rooted in core human rights principles, at all levels of government.”
The U.S. Maternal Health Crisis Disproportionately Impacts Black Women
Exacerbated by the pandemic, the rate of maternal deaths in the U.S. continues its alarming rise. According to recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maternal mortality rates nationwide jumped 32.8% percent in 2021—even after increasing 18.4% in 2020.
For Black women, the maternal mortality rate in 2021 was 2.6 times the rate for non-Hispanic white women and in 2020 was three times as high. Multiple factors contribute to the disparities that Black women experience, including structural racism, biased and discriminatory treatment from providers, limited access to quality care, and broader inequities in health that can lead to complications during pregnancy.
“Abortion bans and restrictions are undermining access to reproductive care—including access to appropriate early pregnancy care, miscarriage management, and dangerous pregnancy complications,” said Lipscomb.
In some states, doctors are reluctant to provide abortion care—even for life-threatening situations—since they fear they’ll lose their licenses or face criminal or civil penalties. “This is deeply problematic in a country where the maternal mortality rate is highest among all wealthy countries,” added Lipscomb.
Maternal Health & Rights Initiative Works to Improve U.S. Maternal Health
Through the Center’s Maternal Health & Rights Initiative, which focuses on improving maternal health equity and outcomes in the U.S., the Center collaborates with BMMA and community partners on proactive and progressive maternal health policies.
The Initiative’s three main priorities are ensuring high quality data collection, fighting for access to safe and respectful comprehensive maternal health care, and addressing racism within and beyond the health care system.
The Center and its partners advocate for policies including:
- Extending Medicaid coverage to at least one year after pregnancy ends.
- State and federal bills that expand access to culturally aligned pregnancy and postpartum care by increasing the diversity of the healthcare workforce and removing legal barriers to practice for skilled midwives of all backgrounds.
- Measures that ensure affordable access to, and fair compensation of, community-based doulas and midwives.
Black Maternal Health Week: What You Can Do