Kamala Harris wants to attack maternal mortality among black women

The California senator says she's introducing legislation to place a focus on healthier outcomes for African American new moms

Sen. Kamala Harris has a plan to attack the dramatic disparity in Black maternal mortality rates.

According to an L.A. Times report, African American women are three to four times more likely than white women to die immediately before or after childbirth. Harris aims to bring attention to this disparity by introducing a bill on Wednesday that will provide millions in annual grants to train against racial bias and incentivize healthcare professionals to address maternal mortality rates, noted the publication.

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“A large part of it is the biases that exist in the medical health professions that lead to these women not being taken seriously,” said Harris, who is the only black woman serving in the U.S. Senate. “Frankly, there are a lot of biases that exist .… It’s a truth, uncomfortable as it may be.”

While maternal mortality rates in the United States have risen steadily since 1987, Black women are more likely to suffer fatal complications, such as cardiovascular disease, infection and hemorrhage.

The CDC reported that between 2011 and 2014, the ratio among white women was 12.4 deaths per 100,000 live births and 40 deaths for black women.

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Harris’ bill would create two new grant programs. One would give $5 million for bias training at medical schools and health programs, prioritizing obstetrics and gynecology. Another $25 million would go to states to give incentives to healthcare providers to decrease mortality rates and racial disparities, according to the L.A. Times. The bill would also give instructions to the National Academy of Medicine to determine how medical schools can incorporate bias recognition.

“I think it is phenomenal that Sen. Harris is stepping forward to lead on this issue for black women,” said Elizabeth Dawes Gay, a co-director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a health care advocacy group. “The fact that she is the only black female senator speaks to a larger problem we have in American society that affects all aspects of our lives. The dearth of black women leaders in the Senate is connected to the problem of poor maternal health outcomes.”

Critics and supporters alike know that Harris’ bill probably faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled Congress, but she’s ready to put up a good fight as health experts cannot explain the national increase in maternal mortality rates among women of all races.

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