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Mary HaddadMay 30, 2023
A Black mother holds her infant child. (iStock/Goodboy Picture Company)(iStock/Goodboy Picture Company)

Since the founding of Catholic care in the United States, providing high-quality compassionate care for mothers and babies has been an integral part of the church’s healing ministry. The women religious who pioneered Catholic health care in rural and urban communities across the country in the 19th century saw there was a critical need for better maternal and pediatric medical care, particularly for pregnant women and their babies living in poverty.

While great strides have been made over the past two centuries in the delivery of health care for women and infants, there is much more that needs to be done.

The United States has fallen behind other developed nations when it comes to maternal mortality. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the maternal death rate in the United States increased by 89 percent from 2018 to 2021. The C.D.C. also reported that more than 80 percent of the maternal deaths in 2017-19 were “preventable.” This maternal health crisis has also exposed glaring racial and ethnic disparities, particularly for Black, American Indian and Alaska Native women, who are dying at two to three times the rate of their white counterparts.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the maternal death rate in the United States increased by 89 percent from 2018 to 2021.

This and other data on maternal health in the United States underscore the dire need for comprehensive federal action to end this crisis and save the lives of mothers. That is why the Catholic Health Association of the United States is strongly advocating for the passage of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act. C.H.A. has joined with more than 45 diverse organizations that represent health care providers, public health professionals, researchers, community-based organizations, nonprofits, health insurance providers, hospitals, maternal and infant health advocates, and other key stakeholders in calling on Congress to pass this legislation to address the maternal mortality crisis and eliminate maternal health inequities.

The Momnibus Act comprises 13 bills sponsored by members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives; it has been introduced by Congresswoman Lauren Underwood, a Democrat from Illinois. These bills would authorize critical investments to address social determinants of health, provide funding for community-based organizations, grow and diversify the perinatal health workforce, expand access to maternal mental health care, address the effects of climate change on maternal and infant health, and improve data collection processes.

The Momnibus Act would bolster the work of the Catholic Health Association in promoting health equity.

This legislation would also bolster C.H.A. members’ work promoting health equity through our national campaign We Are Called. This campaign is guided by the principles of Catholic social teaching, including the inherent dignity of each person, the common good, and concern for the poor and vulnerable. These values call us to work to eradicate racial and ethnic disparities in access to quality health care and health outcomes, disparities that stand in direct opposition to the mission of Catholic health care and our social tradition. The imperative to identify and eliminate racial and health disparities has only increased in urgency as it relates to quality maternal health in this country.

Passing the Momnibus Act would begin to address a number of factors that are responsible for the maternal health crisis and its racial inequities, including issues of systemic racism and social risk factors like housing, transportation and environmental conditions. By advancing the Momnibus Act, Congress can make historic investments in high-quality, culturally appropriate maternity care and robust social support.

We believe the Momnibus Act would help save moms' lives, reduce disparities, advance birth justice for all, and build upon the legacy of the women and men religious who founded Catholic health care in the United States to spread Christ’s healing love to all, particularly to those most in need. The reintroduction of the Momnibus Act in May yielded a historic number of congressional co-sponsors, demonstrating the importance of this issue. As we have done with other critical pieces of legislation that support mothers and babies, such as last year’s law that permanently established 12-month postpartum Medicaid coverage, C.H.A. and our members across the country will continue to advocate for this important legislation and work to get it passed with bipartisan support.

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