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Standing up for the lives of Black mothers

The PJC’s Ashley Black testifies in support of bills to address racial disparities in maternal mortality

March 1, 2019

The birth of a child should be a celebration of new life for mothers and their families. Yet too often, hopeful expectation turns to mourning when our healthcare systems fail Black women, who die in childbirth at 3.7 times the rate of white women in Maryland. And the gap is growing in Maryland, with maternal mortality increasing for Black women, even as it decreases for white women.

Testifying before the Maryland Senate Finance Committee, PJC Health Rights attorney Ashley Black emphasized the need for state and county-level attention to addressing these preventable deaths. She spoke in support of two bills that would improve the collection, analysis, and reporting of data on racial disparities in maternal mortality.

SB 356 would require the Maryland Maternal Mortality Review Program to include in its annual report data about racial disparities in maternal mortality. While the MMRP collects this data, reporting has been sporadic. Analyzing and reporting on racial disparities consistently would help the state and advocates develop strategies to address inequities in access to quality maternal healthcare.

SB 602 would allow each county to establish a local maternal mortality review team. Understanding community-level factors is vital to preventing women’s deaths in childbirth as many of our low-income rural and urban communities have significant gaps in access to comprehensive maternal healthcare. Women living in counties with high rates of poverty are at significantly higher risk of maternal death. County-level reviews of data will enable counties to not only analyze racial disparities and trends in local maternal deaths, but also develop prevention strategies that meet the needs of their specific communities.

Black women have been dying in childbirth at higher rates than white women in the United States for over seven decades. And while Maryland has made progress in reducing maternal mortality, we have much farther to go. We’re glad that the Senate is taking a stand for the lives of Black mothers by unanimously approving SB 356 on third reader. We hope that the Senate Finance Committee will do the same for SB 602 and vote to move it forward.

Hear Ashley Black testify on SB 356 and SB 602 in this video on the General Assembly website, around the 2:10:05 minute mark.

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