New Alliance Opens Discussion on Black Maternal Mortality

By Rita Henley Jensen

Washington D.C.--Leading activists aiming to reduce racial disparities in maternal health joined forces June 14, producing the first congressional briefing by black female leaders on the dramatic racial differences in U.S. maternal mortality rates.

“Maternal health will improve when black women’s human rights are realized,” said Dr. Joia Crear Perry, when she opened the gathering. A New Orleans physician and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, Dr. Perry added: “To have true equity, being black is not a risk factor but racism is.”

In a packed hearing room in the House Office Building, Fleda Mask Jackson connected the dots between the stress on pregnant African American women to lowering the maternal mortality and morbidity rates, as well as reducing the infant mortality and prematurity rates in the black community. Based in Atlanta, Jackson is the creator of Save 100 Babies, a cross-sector network based in Atlanta devoted to a social determinants, asset-based approach for eliminating racial disparities in birth outcomes. 

The sole male speaker was Dr. Haywood Brown, the first African American president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He said the face of a 17-year-old high school senior, an honor student from a strongly religious family, still haunts him. Ashamed, she hid her pregnancy. Those close to her, friends and teachers, joined the team of silence. She had no prenatal care. She had a seizure at school; the infant was saved, but she was not.

“One prenatal visit could have prevented her death,” Dr. Brown said, emphasizing that many maternal deaths can be avoided. He noted 17 states have yet to develop a maternal mortality review committee to scrutinize each and every maternal death and analyze the factors that led to the fatality.

“For every maternal death, 100 women suffer from extreme maternal morbidity,” Dr. Brown said. “That is 60,000 a year.”

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a collaboration of Sister Song, an Atlanta-based reproductive advocacy organization, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, sponsored the briefing. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls supported the briefing.

Washington D.C. – Leading activists aiming to reduce racial disparities in maternal health joined forces June 14, producing the first congressional briefing by black female leaders on the dramatic racial differences in U.S. maternal mortality rates.

In a packed hearing room in the House Office Building, Fleda Mask Jackson emphasized the importance of maternal health and the reduction of the stress on pregnant African American women to lowering the maternal mortality and morbidity rates as well as the infant mortality and prematurity rates in the black community. Based in Atlanta, Jackson is the creator of Save 100 Babies, a cross-sector network based in Atlanta devoted to a social determinants, asset-basedapproach for eliminating racial disparities in birth outcomes. 

“Maternal health will improve when black women’s human rights are realized,” said Dr. Joia Crear Perry, when she opened the gathering. A New Orleans physician, and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, Dr. Perry added: “To have true equity, being black is not a risk factor – but racism is.”

The sole male speaker was Dr. Haywood Brown, the first African American president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He said the face of a 17-year-old high school senior, an honor student from a strongly religious family, still haunts him. Ashamed, she hid her pregnancy. Those close to her, friends and teachers, joined the team of silence. She had no prenatal care. She had a seizure at school; the infant was saved, but she was not.

“One prenatal visit could have prevented her death,” Dr. Brown said, emphasizing that many maternal deaths can be avoided. He noted 17 states have yet to develop a maternal mortality review committee to scrutinize each and every maternal death and analyze the factors that led to the fatality.

“For every maternal death, 100 women suffer from extreme maternal morbidity,” Dr. Brown said. “That is 60,000 a year.”

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a collaboration of Sister Song, an Atlanta-based reproductive advocacy organization and the Center for Reproductive Rights, sponsored the briefing. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls supported the briefing.

Rita Henley Jensen