If you're reading this post, you probably know enough to be outraged: Despite its resources, the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Black birthing people are dying at 3-4 times the rate of white birthing people. Black advocates and healthcare providers have been sounding the alarm for decades — most of these deaths can be prevented if we give this issue the attention and resources it deserves.
On the bright side, the U.S. federal government is finally waking up to this issue — see Biden's latest statement here — and some changes are being made. One of the biggest advancements in the fight for maternal health equity comes in the form of the groundbreaking Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.
What exactly does this Act encompass? What has it achieved so far? We’re getting into it all below.
What is the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act?
The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act was first introduced on March 9, 2020 (just before the COVID pandemic took hold) by the Black Maternal Health Caucus — an initiative launched by Congresspeople Alma Adams (North Carolina) and Lauren Underwood (Illinois) in April 2019.
The Momnibus Act, which has since been co-sponsored by dozens of members in the House of Representatives and the Senate, began with nine bills aimed to improve health outcomes for Black birthing people before reemerging in February 2021 with 12 bills supporting investment in:
- Social determinants of maternal health (housing, transportation, and nutrition)
- Community-based initiatives
- Pregnant and postpartum veterans
- Cultural congruence in maternity care (research shows Black infants delivered by Black physicians fare better)
- National data collection processes
- Maternal mental health
- Birthing parents in incarceration
- Digital tools like telehealth
- Innovative payment models
- The unique risks for and effects of COVID-19 during and after pregnancy
- Climate change-related risks
- Maternal vaccination
(Get a full breakdown of the proposed bills here.)
What has the Momnibus Act accomplished so far?
The 2021 iteration of the Momnibus Act is still in the first stages of the legislative process. Proponents are making strategic decisions to get the Act’s provisions through the Senate.
One of the Act’s bills, the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, was reintroduced by Senator Tammy Duckworth and signed into law on November 30, 2021. This law puts $15 million toward boosting maternity care for military veterans. The remainder of the outlined objectives were included in the initial draft of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act.
While Build Back Better has hit major obstacles, the initial inclusion of the Mominibus initiatives signals a growing focus of Biden’s administration to overcome this pressing issue. One major milestone in combating maternal health disparities was the March 2021 passing of the American Rescue Plan, which allows states to extend Medicaid coverage for birthing people to 12 months postpartum. (How this fits in: Almost half of the Black population in the U.S. relies on Medicaid or public health insurance.)
In October 2021, California’s Governor Gavin Newsom signed the California Momnibus Act into law. To our knowledge, no other local Momnibus Acts have been passed yet (though local legislators have campaigned for the passing of the federal act).
(For a *very fun* refresher on the bill-to-law process, we recommend a rewatch of Schoolhouse Rocks’ “I’m Just a Bill.”)
What’s next for the Momnibus Act?
The Black Maternal Health Caucus continues to push for legislation that improves Black maternal health outcomes (either as the Momnibus Act on its own, or in the next version of Build Back Better Act, if that comes together anytime soon). It also highlights and celebrates initiatives from private and public sectors that do the same.
Keep tabs on the Caucus and others’ progress by following them on Twitter.
How can you support the future of the Momnibus Act?
The Black Maternal Health Caucus urges people who want to help pass Momnibus bills to:
- Reach out to your Congress or Senate representatives to let them know this issue matters to you. (Look up your Representatives and Senators here and here.)
- Educate around the Act on social media (with sample posts like these).
- Team up with community-based organizations that are fighting to improve Black maternal health outcomes in your area.
Follow the Black Maternal Health Caucus on Twitter for the latest updates.