N.J. committee approves bill aiming to make prenatal care more equitable

A doctor holds a stethoscope on a pregnant person's belly.

A doctor holds a stethoscope on a pregnant person's belly. (VadimGuzhva/Bigstock)

The New Jersey Assembly Women and Children Committee unanimously approved a bill last week that sponsors said would make prenatal health care more equitable in the state, especially for people of color.

It would require obstetric health care professionals to communicate a range of birthing options, including planned hospital-induced births or emergency C-sections, water births that can take place at home or in a hospital — with and without medication — among others. They would also be required to provide information about the health risks to pregnant patients and infants associated with each option, and related medications. It would also require them to work with health insurance companies to communicate how much various options cost.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-34), said her own experience with pregnancy inspired her.

“When I was sworn into the Assembly, I was nine months pregnant,” Timberlake said. “I wanted to have a natural water birth. And I used a lot of research and tools and resources in order to build a community around me that would be able to support me safely in my birthing option and desire.

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“I recognized that I had privilege in being able to research and to build that village around me that other women may not have had,” she said.

Timberlake, a Black activist from East Orange with experience advocating for communities of color, said this bill would give expectant mothers more options to choose from when deciding how to give birth.

“This bill requires physicians and midwives to work with the insurance companies, in which the insurance companies will compile the data for all the various birthing options that they will pay for for a woman, and the physician or the midwife will have to have a conversation with the pregnant woman…about all of her various birthing options,” Timberlake said.

The bill would also require physicians and midwives to provide this information in English, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Brazilian, Portuguese, Chinese, Creole, French, and Korean.

Jaye Wilson is the founder of Melinated Moms, a community-centered organization that supports and empowers moms of color. Gov. Phil Murphy also appointed her to the New Jersey Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, which was formed to improve health outcomes for pregnant people and lower the state’s high maternal mortality rate. In 2013, 37 out of 100,000 women died during pregnancy, childbirth, or within a year of childbirth, according to NJ Spotlight, and the mortality rate for Black women was nearly four times higher than for white women.

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According to NJ.com, Black infants are three times more likely than white infants to die before their first birthday. “Inadequate prenatal care” was listed as one of the causes of the disparity.

Wilson said Melinated Moms is a proponent of health equity and works to raise awareness about challenges in the birthing process for pregnant people of color.

“One of the most frequent questions we hear is, ‘Where do we find someone who will honor the type of birth that I want to have?’” Wilson said. “Because their previous birthing experience was either negative or if it’s their first birthing experience, they’ve been so afraid from hearing other people’s trauma that they don’t want to go into it unprepared.”

Wilson said her group supports Timberlake’s legislation.

“[It’s] acknowledging that in order for women to have equity in their health care decisions, it needs to be in a language that they read and understand. It needs to be delivered by people who are trusted partners in the care that they need to have. And it’s requiring their health insurance providers to still have that same level of transparency,” Wilson said.

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