On April 13, the Biden-Harris administration took a historic step to address the disproportionate maternal mortality rate among Black women as a part of Black Maternal Health Week.
In a release on the White House website, the administration proclaimed with the actions it has planned to decrease Black women dying from pregnancy complications.
The initiative includes $30 million in implicit bias training for healthcare professionals as a part of a bigger $200 million designation for other oversight activities such as support for the Maternal Mortality Review Committees.
Vice President Kamala Harris noted that this bias and systemic racism are at the heart of preventable deaths. “We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias,” she said during a session on Black mental health Tuesday. Harris has been wrestling with this issue since she was a senator.
Racial injustice has long been the insidious thread woven into many of the unequal outcomes that African-Americans experience. And reproduction is no different. Although the United States has one of the worst maternal mortality rates among the developed nation, Black women bear the brunt of this trend.
A 2018 report from the Centers for Disease Control revealed that 17.4 live births out of 100,000 ended in maternal death. For Black women, however, that number was 37.3 deaths per 100,000. According to the CDC, most maternal deaths are caused by hypertension, preeclampsia, drug overdoses, and hemorrhaging.
Although African-Americans have disproportionate rates of chronic illnesses like hypertension that may lead to complications, Marsha Jones, executive director of the Afiya Center, believes it’s much deeper. “It is a direct result of how black women are received when they enter the health care system that is riddled with bias about black women’s bodies. Historically racist ideology and practices continue to dictate how black women are treated, so even when we present with resources and access, we are treated no differently than if we had no access or resources because we are still Black,” she said.
The proclamation is a first for Black maternal health. “In the United States of America, a person’s race should never determine their health outcomes, and pregnancy and childbirth should be safe for all,” Biden said during his speech on the matter.
So far, a proposal to extend postpartum care has been approved.