The New York City Council passed a slate of legislation Thursday that will create a maternal health bill of rights, mandate education around maternal health issues and put other measures in place that aim to improve birth outcomes. Combined, the package aims to address persisting racial disparities in maternal mortality.

Maternal health disparities have gained increased attention among city officials in recent years and are a stated priority of the Adams administration. The pandemic disrupted some city and state plans to address the problem. Some legislators also attributed the timing of this legislative action, in part, to the fact that the City Council is now majority women for the first time.

“Representation matters,” Councilmember Lynn Schulman, who represents Queens, said at a press conference on the health bills at City Hall Park on Thursday morning just ahead of the vote. “That's why we're here today. That's why we're able to do this.”

Schulman chairs the Council’s health committee.

Black New Yorkers are eight times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white New Yorkers and nearly three times as likely to suffer from severe pregnancy complications, according to a report released by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 2019.

“Legislation is a powerful tool to transform the state of affairs for black and brown mamas in this state,” said Shawnee Benton Gibson, an activist seeking to address maternal health disparities.

Benton Gibson said her daughter died from a pulmonary embolism during childbirth — and she and her mother had both experienced trauma during childbirth.

“I'm standing here today on the strength of all of the wombs that are connected to my family and my clan on both sides,” she said.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is the primary sponsor of the legislation creating the maternal health bill of rights, which requires the city to create a public education campaign that informs pregnant people about issues including their rights in the workplace, pregnancy-related discrimination and how to appoint a health care proxy who can make decisions if the patient can’t do so themselves.

Other measures in the package require the city to do educational outreach around the benefits of doulas and midwives — and to teach pregnant New Yorkers about conditions that can cause pregnancy complications such as polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. The city government will also have to conduct additional research on maternal mortality and morbidity and post an annual report publicly online.

The City Council is also seeking to build on existing doula programs, including the pilot Mayor Eric Adams announced in March. That initiative aimed to connect 500 expecting families across the city with free doula services, prioritizing those who are low-income and first-time parents.

The Council also adopted a resolution calling on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand funding for the By My Side Birth Support Program, a separate doula program focused on central and eastern parts of Brooklyn.

Asked on Thursday whether Adams’ doula program went far enough, some advocates lamented that none of the partner organizations included in the pilot were based in the Bronx.

“We are constantly forgotten, so you're not addressing inequities,” said Janet Peguero, the Bronx deputy borough president.

The mayor’s pilot program did, however, include an organization based in upper Manhattan that was slated to serve parts of the Bronx.

“There's so much more work that needs to be done, but I'm glad that the Council is taking leadership here,” Williams said.