In the wake of countless unnecessary deaths, the Black Maternal Health Caucus in the House of Representatives introduced the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act in 2021 as a way to tackle the pervasive drivers of maternal mortality in the United States.
Yet in that session of Congress, only one of the 13 bills included in it passed (the Protecting Moms Who Served Act). So on May 15, 2023 (the day after Mother’s Day), the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate reintroduced the Momnibus act in hopes of passing the remaining 12 bills.
These bills range in focus, but they all seek to better the maternal health landscape. “The Momnibus Act covers a wide range of issues related to maternal health, including social determinants of health, access to care, workforce diversity, data collection, mental health support, and more,” explains Salma Mohamed, research lead of the Mama Glow Foundation, an organization fighting for reproductive justice through education and advocacy. “It recognizes that improving maternal health requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying factors driving the maternal health crisis.”
"Improving maternal health requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying factors." —Salma Mohamed, Mama Glow Foundation
At Mama Glow's recent Doula Expo, held a week after the Momnibus bill was reintroduced, founder Latham Thomas spoke to actress Tatyana Ali, who shared how necessary she feels it is to advocate for the bill's passage into law. "It is the kind of policy that...includes so much and it would change things for everybody," she said. "So I'm at the place where I just talk about it everywhere I am. But I'm also at the place where I'm like, okay, let's organize."
About the 12 bills in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act
Impact to Save Moms Act
Pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum care cost an average of $18,865, with the average out-of-pocket payments totaling around $2,854. For many people, these costs keep them from seeking the care they need.
This bill seeks to find new ways to make perinatal healthcare affordable to everyone—not just those with deep pockets and good insurance. The Impact to Save Moms Act would “allow states to test payment models for maternity care, including postpartum care, under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP),” according to Congress.gov.
Kira Johnson Act
At the National Birth Equity Collaborative (NBEC), federal policy analyst Alise Powell says the Kira Johnson Act is one of their favorites. “It focuses on supporting community-based organizations with financial grants,” she says. “There's data to support that when pregnant folks are being cared for by folks in their community who they trust and who look like them, that leads to better maternal health outcomes.”
These grants could also address maternal health challenges in novel ways. “Funding enables [organizations] to conduct studies, gather data, and share findings that inform evidence-based practices,” says Mohamed. “These organizations can pilot and scale up innovative programs, share successful models, and contribute to the collective learning and advancement of maternal health care. This fosters a culture of continuous improvement.”
The bill would also provide training to healthcare workers to reduce instances of racism, bias, and discrimination.
Perinatal Workforce Act
This act will establish grants for education programs to diversify the perinatal workforce, including nurses, doctors, and other clinicians involved in maternal care. It also mandates that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must provide proper guidance on maternal care delivery options, including information on doulas, midwives, and all holistic maternity care options.
The bill would also offer what’s known as congruent maternity care. “Culturally congruent care, which involves providing care that is sensitive to and respectful of an individual's cultural background and needs, is essential for improving maternal health outcomes,” says Mohamed.
Extending WIC for New Moms Act
Access to nutritious food has been found to boost maternal health, yet not all new parents can afford it. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) helps birthing people and their children access healthy food. Currently, parents are only eligible for these services for six months (or 12 months if breastfeeding). The Extending WIC for New Moms Act will increase that eligibility for two more years.
Social Determinants for Moms Act
This bill targets the nonclinical social determinants of maternal health—like affordable housing and transportation to (and childcare during) healthcare appointments. Additionally, this bill would start new research into social disparities and environmental factors contributing to poor maternal health care. It also includes the WIC extensions presented in the Extending WIC for New Moms Act.
“Ensuring safe and stable housing reduces the risk of complications during pregnancy, while improved transportation access enhances prenatal care utilization,” says Mohamed.
Data to Save Moms Act
This bill calls for maternal mortality review committees within the CDC, and mandates that these committees unearth nonclinical causes of maternal mortality, use the most up-to-date indicators of maternal morbidity, and “review deaths caused by suicide, overdose, or other behavioral health conditions attributed to or aggravated by pregnancy or childbirth.”
The Data to Save Moms Act will also ask experts from diverse backgrounds to review how maternal health data is collected. This is a crucial step, given that past data collection on this subject has been scant.
Tech to Save Moms Act
Under this bill, the HHS would be required to offer grants to “reduce racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes by increasing access to digital tools,” like telehealth services, and to expand the use of learning models that can help people receive medical care in underserved areas.
“The Tech to Save Moms Act is another one that we are outwardly supporting and pushing within the package to improve and address disparities and maternal health outcomes, especially for folks who live in rural areas,” says Powell.
Maternal Health for Veterans Act
Only one of 13 original bills included in the Momninbus Act has been passed into law so far: The Protecting Moms Who Served Act. This bipartisan bill commissioned the first comprehensive study on the maternal health crisis among women veterans and focused on racial and ethnic disparities in particular.
Now, the Maternal Health for Veterans Act will reauthorize the funding of that bill.
Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act
National emergencies affect the medical system in countless ways, and maternal care is no exception. This bill would require data collection during public health emergencies that could pose threats to babies and birthing people. “The CDC must also carry out an education campaign about pregnancy and COVID-19 and must establish a task force that addresses maternity care during the COVID-19 emergency,” according to the bill.
Of course, now that the Biden Administration has ended the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE), this piece of legislation will seek to help birthing people and children during future PHEs.
Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act
Maternal health care is stripped from birthing people who are incarcerated. That’s why the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act calls for states to restrict restraints on pregnant people and prioritize postpartum health among inmates. It will also keep those with children in state and local prisons so they can remain close to their families.
Better data collection of maternal health outcomes in prisons is also a priority of the legislation, particularly for inmates who are part of vulnerable populations.
Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act
As the name suggests, this act sets aside grants for research about how climate change is affecting birthing people and children, particularly those facing racial or ethnic disparities. It also will require those working in medicine to learn about these risks in training programs and continued education.
Maternal Vaccinations Act
Pregnant people from underserved racial and ethnic groups are far less likely to get life-saving vaccines compared to white people. This act would establish “a national campaign to raise awareness and increase rates of maternal vaccinations” and asks the CDC to focus its attention on groups that have traditionally shied away from maternal vaccines due to lack of education, lack of access, or both.
What’s next for the Momnibus Act—and how you can help
Powell says that packaging all of the bills together makes the Momnibus Act an audacious but necessary venture. And it sends the message that maternal health is a multidimensional issue that deserves a multi-dimensional solution.
“We're hoping these issues stay at the forefront of healthcare conversations. We will continue to connect the dots between abortion restrictions, the Black maternal health crisis, maternal health, and bodily autonomy,” says Powell.
In the coming months, NBEC will try to garner bipartisan support for the Momnibus Act. However, it’s a long road—but there’s a way for you to help.
“Contact your representatives now that the package has been reintroduced. Call them, email them, send them letters to ask them for their support of the bill in its entirety. Share your stories and perspectives on the issue and how it has impacted your life. We've found that, especially in the advocacy spaces, almost everyone you know has a story related to the maternal health crisis,” says Powell. Now is the time to tell yours.
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