U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tina Smith (D-MN), and U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood to introduce legislation to address maternal health disparities and ensure pregnant people– especially people of color and other at risk populations– are supported in the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The maternal health crisis in the United States has been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak due to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities, comorbidities, inadequate health care access, and structural racism. The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would improve research and data collection, safeguard the health of pregnant and postpartum individuals, and dedicate resources to combat the growing maternal mortality and morbidity crisis.
“COVID-19 has deepened existing racial inequalities in public health, and we must take decisive action to combat the maternal mortality and morbidity crises,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act will ensure the federal government develops and implements policies to help end the racial disparities in maternal health during the pandemic and beyond.”
The recent death of Sha-Asia Washington in Brooklyn is just the latest example of the disproportionate challenges that pregnant black individuals face in the health care system. According to the CDC, Hispanic and Black pregnant women were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. However, the depths of the maternal mortality and COVID-19 crisis on women of color is limited due to the CDC’s lack of robust data collection on pregnant people. In addition to introducing the Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act, Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues recently sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the agency’s inadequate response to the public health needs of at-risk populations and pregnant people during the COVID-19 outbreak and urged the agency to improve data collection and public health communication, expand surveillance efforts, ensure the proper inclusion of pregnant people in COVID-19 clinical trials, and address racial disparities in health care outcomes.
Specifically, the Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would:
- Improve Data Collection, Research, and Surveillance Initiatives. The bill requires the CDC to coordinate, collect, and publicly post data related to COVID-19 and pregnancy disaggregated by race, ethnicity, state, and tribal location. The bill also authorizes funding for CDC’s pregnancy surveillance programs and the National Institutes of Health’s research programs. It also mandates CDC tribal consultation and confer with urban Indian organizations, in collaboration with the Indian Health Service.
- Ensure the Inclusion of Pregnant People in Vaccine and Therapeutic Development for COVID-19. This bill directs the NIH to ensure that at least one COVID-19 vaccine is developed and made available for use in pregnancy and lactation. It adds reporting and data collection requirements for COVID-19 therapeutic and vaccine developers regarding their product’s use in pregnancy and lactation. And it emphasizes the inclusion of pregnant people, including those from underrepresented populations, in clinical trials when safe and appropriate.
- Improve Public Health Information and Communication for Pregnant People. The bill directs the CDC to undertake a robust public health education effort aimed at informing pregnant people, their employers, and their providers about the latest evidence-based health information. It also requires the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard for pregnant workers and all workers.
- Ensure Lasting Maternal Health Care and Birthing Experience Improvements. The bill defines anti-racist, culturally congruent, and respectful maternity care and seeks to improve the provision of this type of care. It creates a Task Force on Birthing Experience and Safe, Respectful Maternity Care to develop federal recommendations to ensure the provision of quality, nondiscriminatory maternity care and the improvement of maternal health outcomes during the COVID-19 public health emergency. It also mandates a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency to assess the delivery of maternal care during the pandemic and make recommendations for future pandemic preparedness and response related to maternal care.
A summary of the legislation can be found here.