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NYC Council Confronts Shocking Racial Disparities In Maternal Mortality Rates

Council Member Mark Levine Tweeted a photograph of doulas who had come to the hearing
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Council Member Mark Levine Tweeted a photograph of doulas who had come to the hearing

New legislation before the City Council aims to tackle the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis in New York City. "The death of a mother in childbirth or due to pregnancy complications is a zero acceptability event—every single case represents a failure of our health system and our society," said City Council Member Mark Levine in a statement issued before Wednesday's hearing.

While maternal health outcomes have improved in many developed nations, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) has actually increased in the U.S. over the past 25 years—doubling to 28.7 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2016. The statistic is driven by the soaring deaths of black women related to childbirth, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes than white women, which has been noted as a "disproportionate rate that is higher than that of Mexico, where nearly half the population lives in poverty."

Reality is even more grim here: Black women in NYC are now 12 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to city data.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal introduced two bills on Wednesday: One will require the NYC Department of Health to give any pregnant person in New York City access to a doula, while the other would codify the Maternal Mortality & Morbidity Review Committee—which examines every maternal mortality case— within the DOH and also require the DOH to report to the Council on maternal mortality.

"Maternal health outcomes are a textbook example of the profound issues our country faces at the intersection of race and gender," said Council Member Helen Rosenthal in a statement. "These issues are perpetuated by both implicit and explicit bias. The City must approach maternal mortality with a broader public health lens, and not confine policy to what happens within the walls of a hospital. Today we heard testimony from witnesses who have experienced the bias of the medical system and its unwillingness to listen in its most severe form."

"It is deeply concerning that persistent racial disparities exist in this area. It’s unthinkable that right here in NYC, black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers from complications related to pregnancy," "said Levine, who chairs the Health Committee.

In April, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo also announced that New York State will introduce Medicaid coverage for birth doula support to eliminate disparities for low-income mothers who can’t afford private doulas. The initiative is an attempt by Cuomo to address the state being ranked 30th in the nation for maternal mortality rate.

"We are taking aggressive action to break down barriers that prevent women from getting the prenatal care and information they need,” he said.

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