Photos: A Better Balance\Twitter
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), a founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, has introduced the COVID-19 Safe Birthing Act, bold legislation to provide critical protections and access to care for pregnant people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation, which comes during Black Maternal Health Week, would help address the harmful impact of the pandemic on pregnant people, particularly pregnant people of color, and continues Congresswoman Pressley’s longstanding advocacy for maternal health justice.
“This pandemic has had a devastating impact on our most vulnerable communities in Massachusetts and across the country, including and especially pregnant people,” said Rep. Pressley. “With our nation’s maternal health crisis worsening during the ongoing pandemic, we must use every tool available to provide pregnant people—including Black and brown folks, who face disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and COVID-19 cases—with the comprehensive care and support necessary to experience a healthy and safe pregnancy during this pandemic and after. This bill would do just that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has created many severe, compounding challenges for pregnant people, particularly pregnant people of color. In this vulnerable time, no pregnant person should have to choose between the support of a family member and the support of a doula. Before the pandemic, our nation was already experiencing a maternal health crisis, with the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed countries, despite spending more money on healthcare than any other.
Pregnant people who contract COVID-19 are at greater risk for severe illness and death and greater risk of pregnancy-related complications. Restrictions put in place by hospitals and healthcare facilities because of the pandemic have resulted in people birthing alone and being isolated from their newborns during critical periods of postpartum bonding. Having a trusted advocate present to amplify their voices during medical appointments and during labor could save their lives.
The COVID-19 Safe Birthing Act would provide critical protections and access to care for pregnant people during this public health crisis by:
Ensuring that hospitals and health care settings allow birthing individuals to be accompanied by a loved one, in addition to a doula or other birthing support professional;
Expanding access to maternal telehealth services for Medicaid recipients;
Extending Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program postpartum coverage to a full year; and
Ensuring that all pregnant persons, regardless of insurance status or source of insurance, have access to free COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination during and after the emergency declaration period.
The legislation is supported by the Center for Reproductive Rights, National Birth Equity Collaborative, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Restoring Our Own Through Transformation (ROOTT), Shades of Blue Project, Jamila Taylor, Director of Health Care Reform and Senior Fellow for The Century Foundation, Physicians for Reproductive Health Diversity Uplifts, Inc., the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), Health Care For All – Massachusetts, The 2 Degrees Foundation, and Ipas.
“We must prioritize the health and lives of pregnant mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Reproductive Rights thanks Congresswoman Ayanna Presley for introducing this critical piece of maternal health legislation,” said Jennifer Jacoby, Senior Federal Policy Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“The COVID-19 pandemic introduced a new level of uncertainty to an already dangerous situation,” said Dr. Joia Crear Perry, President and Founder of the National Birth Equity Collaborative and trained obstetrician and gynecologist. “We were already fighting systemic racism, bias, and discrimination in the health care system before the pandemic hit. The chaos that came after, like reports that women were forced to birth alone, happened because health care systems decentered birthing people, and Black women specifically, from their care models as they scrambled to develop policies to protect their organizations. These actions were unconscionable. With Congresswoman Pressley’s new bill, birth equity can and commonsense policy can be advanced.”
“The COVID-19 Safe Birthing Act is vital legislation introduced at a critical moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly harmful impact on Black and Brown birthing people. This bill aims to ensure access to compassionate quality and affordable maternal health care during the pandemic, and after,” said Jamila Taylor Director of Health Care Reform and Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation. “I am proud to have partnered with Representative Pressley on developing this legislation and look forward to seeing its important provisions implemented.”
As a founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Congresswoman Pressley is committed to ending the Black maternal mortality crisis in America and affirming maternal health justice for all. In May 2019, she introduced the Healthy MOMMIES Act, to extend post-partum Medicaid coverage for pregnant people and expand coverage to include culturally competent and community based doula care. In February 2021, she re-introduced the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act, legislation to improve maternal health care and support for pregnant individuals who are incarcerated. The legislation was initially filed in March 2020.
In November, at a briefing held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), Congresswoman Pressley delivered testimony on the growing racial disparities in maternal health and the urgent need to combat the Black maternal mortality crisis. Her full testimony at the briefing is available here.