Pa. Black Maternal Health Caucus caps off Black Maternal Health Week

The group touted efforts to improve Black maternal health outcomes at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.

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A mother holds her daughter in the air.

A mother plays with her 6-month-old daughter Thursday, July 21, 2011, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Black women remain at a high risk of maternal mortality in the United States. They are about three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related death than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This ongoing paradigm is something that local Black women legislators in Pennsylvania are looking to change.

“Being Black and being pregnant should not be a death sentence,” said the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Joanna McClinton. “It should be an opportunity for joy. An opportunity to celebrate.”

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On Tuesday afternoon, McClinton was one of several leaders of the Pennsylvania Black Maternal Health Caucus (PBMHC) that spoke to commemorate Black Maternal Health Week in Pennsylvania.

Members gathered inside the Pennsylvania State Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg with Black maternal advocates to raise awareness for Black maternal mortality rates, as well as underlying health conditions affecting Black mothers each day.

“We recognize the intersection of racism and systems that do not train practitioners – like many have been – to understand the sensitivities of all of their patients,” McClinton said. “That’s why in that first year after giving birth, you’re at a higher risk, even once you’re home safely cuddling your child to die, and it’s unacceptable. That’s unacceptable in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Black Maternal Health Week, which was founded by the national group the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA),  is an annual event held from April 11 through April 17.

The group launched its campaign to bring public awareness to the ongoing health disparities that Black women face when it comes to giving birth. The gap in health outcomes stems from a variety of issues, including poor health care, pre-existing health conditions, economic inequality and implicit bias.

In Pennsylvania, Black women are among the highest at-risk groups of pregnancy-related deaths — a mortality ratio of 148 for every 100,000 live births in 2020. Representative Gina H. Curry of District 164 and co-chair of PBMHC attributed these numbers to growing ‘health deserts’ across Pennsylvania.

“We have a maternal health desert in so many spaces in our Commonwealth that prevent folks from getting the care that they need,” Curry said. “And even though those places that have an epicenter of health care often are still places where we are not getting the care that we need which equals comorbidities which in turn — turn into mortality rates.”

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Addressing Black maternal mortality rates has also gained broad support in Philadelphia. Last year, Philadelphia Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson advocated for City Hall to provide $250,000 toward funding transitional shelter for pregnant mothers experiencing homelessness. Richardson is a mother of two children who experienced a traumatic birth with her younger son.

Speaking to the crowd, the councilwoman spoke on refocusing her efforts to promote the PA MOMNIBUS legislation—a bill that seeks to prevent Black maternal mortality and morbidity comprehensively. The legislation requires Medicaid to cover blood pressure monitors for pregnant and postpartum enrollees and doula services.

“Know that this work is important. Know that we’ve had too many families impacted, and we have a lot of work to do each and every person on this step,” she said. “Your advocacy means so much. You being here and standing up in our state’s capital means so much.”

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