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Delaware Senate Democrats

Together, we can end racial disparities in maternal health

August 30, 2022

By Sen. Marie Pinkney |

While the United States was founded on the principle of all men being created equal, we know this nation has never truly treated all of its citizens equally.

Far too often, women in America today – particularly women who look like us – are still treated much differently than men and our white female counterparts.

Perhaps nowhere are those disparities starker than when we look at the grave disparity in outcomes between women bringing white and Black children into this world.

Let me be clear: our nation is currently failing all expecting mothers. As the only “developed” nation with no paid parental leave policy, a widespread lack of maternal care providers and very little support for new mothers, we have the single highest maternal mortality rate with two-thirds of the 700 pregnancy-related deaths that occur in the U.S. each year being entirely preventable.

But there is no question that the main driver of those horrific statistics is race.

Here in Delaware, for instance, black babies are nearly three times as likely to die before their first birthday than white babies, while half of all birthing parents who die during childbirth are Black, despite accounting for only a quarter of all births.

That disparity isn’t caused by the color of our skin. It’s caused by the disparity in how we are treated because of our skin color.

Thankfully, the record number of Black women elected to the Delaware General Assembly since 2020 are stepping up to take action.

I joined my colleague and friend Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, who, like me, works in the healthcare profession, in securing the successful passage of six bills aimed at improving maternal health outcomes for all women, but especially Black women.

Affectionately referred to by our fellow legislators as the Momnibus package, these bills recently signed into law by Governor John Carney will extend healthcare coverage for low-income families through the first year of motherhood, create mandatory bias and cultural competency training for all healthcare professions and require our state’s leading healthcare agency to produce a plan for providing low-income families with free access to doulas.

They also improve the way we collect and review child birth data to better recognize racial disparities, identify solutions, and mobilize our healthcare professionals to address them.

And they protect some of the most vulnerable mothers in our state by preventing correctional officers from putting pregnant women and new mothers in restraints and guaranteeing pregnant parents in our correctional system access to midwives and doulas.

Thanks to the help of my good friend Sen. Sarah McBride we also reduced the timeframe for infant blood screenings and passed legislation to make Delaware just the 12th state in the nation to offer workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental and medical leave.

While these are all critical reforms that will help to reduce the deadly disparities that we all know exist in the healthcare profession, our work is far from complete.

And we can’t do it alone.

Black women have been forced to learn how to navigate in a world that is unfair, unjust and inequitable. We are also expected to teach our daughters, our sisters, our aunts and yes, even our moms, how to navigate an unfair and inequitable health care system as we continue to demand better for ourselves from systems that were never designed to operate in our best interest.

We must continue to teach each other how to advocate for ourselves. We need to encourage and help each other to ask questions and to demand answers. And we need to hold the door open for one another when we find the strength to walk out when a doctor isn’t listening.

The health disparities that are leading to our deaths and the deaths of our children are unacceptable. Individually and collectively, we must refuse to accept them.

Stand with us and demand better from our hospitals, our doctors and our medical professionals. Push for reforms that will end racial disparities in maternal health. Help each other find doulas and midwives who will help to advocate on our behalf.

Our lives – and the lives of our babies – depend on it.

Sen. Marie Pinkney represents the 13th District, which stretches from the Christiana River south to Red Lion Road and encompasses dozens of neighborhoods along U.S. Route 13. A social worker/case manager at Christiana Care, she became the first LBBTQ+ person of color ever elected to the Delaware Senate in 2020. She currently chairs the Senate Corrections & Public Safety Committee.