We’ve seen our first snowfall in Hillsdale and I’ll admit, I am not ready! Thankfully, it didn’t last long and didn’t make travel conditions challenging. As the residence director in a men’s dorm, it’s fun to watch the freshmen who have never experienced a snow storm before. One of my freshmen actually went out and made snow angels in the front yard of the dorm! He’ll have plenty of other opportunities, of that I am quite sure.
This week I’m sharing a resolution from last summer’s General Convention that is more for information than any particular congregational action; however, there is plenty of room in the resolves to encourage individuals to become knowledgeable, make appropriate phone calls to legislators, and take action.
D014 Addressing Maternal Mortality
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention reaffirm its commitment in Resolution 2006-B018 to work to “Ensure quality pre-natal care is available for all”; and views with alarm that the incidence of maternal mortality and morbidity has been increasing in the United States; and be it further
Resolved, That Convention support the advocacy efforts of our dioceses for all women to have the right to safe and available pre- and post-natal health care that enables healthy pregnancies, births, post-partum recovery, and mental health care; and overall maternal wellbeing; and be it further
Resolved, That the Office of Government Relations articulates our vision that safe and respectful maternal health care is a recognized human right throughout the U.S., and urges state governments to adopt a human-rights based approach to ensuring safe pregnancy and childbirth; and be it further
Resolved, That as we live out the call of our Presiding Bishop to be the Beloved Community, we acknowledge the tragic disparity in maternal health care that has resulted from discrimination in pre- and post-natal maternal health care for impoverished women and women of color.
As the mother of three children and a former childbirth educator/maternity nurse, the topic of safe maternal-child health care for all women is particularly close to my heart. And I will sadly admit that, coming from the communities of my youth, I was completely unaware of the inequality of care for women of different races and socio-economic status. It’s time that we remedy this disparity. The following explanation of the resolution as it was originally presented explains (please remember that the explanation is not an official part of the resolution):
An April 11, 2018 article in the New York Times Magazine titled, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis”, highlighted this tragic and unfair disparity. One letter to the editor stated:
“This is a touching human story. But it is also a story of race, class and hypocrisy. The human elements are obvious and well told. But the statistics on maternal death and infant mortality tell a story of a nation that refuses to provide adequate medical services for its citizens.”
Black women in the U.S. suffer from life-threatening pregnancy complications twice as often as White women, and they die from pregnancy-related complications four times as often as White women. When mothers die, it breaks down families and can lead to negative health consequences for their children.
This is a crisis about human rights. Human rights standards surrounding safe pregnancy, childbirth, and respectful maternal care are rooted in the human rights to life, health, equality, and non-discrimination. Governments must ensure these rights by creating enabling conditions that support healthy women, healthy pregnancies, and healthy births. Fundamental human rights are violated when pregnant and birthing women endure preventable suffering, including death, illness, injury, mistreatment, abuse, discrimination, and denials of information and bodily autonomy. A human rights based approach to maternal health in the United States requires the government to directly confront racial discrimination in the context of maternal health and to specifically address the harms and inequalities faced by Black women during pregnancy and childbirth.
Preventable maternal mortality is a human rights crisis in the United States. The U.S. is one of only 13 countries in the world, and the only country with an advanced economy, where pregnancy-related deaths are on the rise. Women in the U.S. are more likely to die from pregnancy complications than those in 45 other countries.
The incidence of poor maternal health outcomes is worsening. Both the likelihood of experiencing a severe pregnancy complication and dying from it are on the rise in the United States. Although the U.S. spends more on health care per capita than any other country, maternal health outcomes are deteriorating overall and racial disparities are as wide as they were in the 1930’s.
The risk of dying from a pregnancy complication should not depend on one’s race or zip code. But the reality is that women in the South are at a much higher risk than women in other areas of the country. A Black woman in Mississippi is almost twice as likely to die from complications of pregnancy and child birth compared to a White woman in Mississippi or a Black woman in California. Maternal mortality affects Black women of all socio-economic backgrounds. Racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths show that across all income and education levels, Black women in the U.S. are at higher risk for poorer outcomes than White women.
To tackle the problem of maternal mortality, we need to address racial discrimination and structural racism. Poor maternal health outcomes expose inequalities in U.S. society that go beyond the health system. Improving those outcomes will require more equitable access to health care and the social determinants of health.
To improve U.S. maternal health outcomes, we must prioritize Black women’s health and lives and commit to taking meaningful action. Every state at all levels of governance must take steps to ensure safe and respectful maternal care for all women. Our churches can work in our communities to help make this happen. (Thanks to the Center for Reproductive Rights for its assistance.)
As Resolution D014 states, this isn’t the first time the crisis of maternal-child health has been raised at a General Convention. Besides the resolution from 2006 cited in D014’s first resolve, I found another one that had been adopted in 2012 – A140 Advocate for Maternal Child Health. Clearly this issue has not been sufficiently corrected since it continues to make it to the floor of our Conventions.
According to an article from June 2019 in the online resource Health Affairs, for the first time in history maternal-child health is at the forefront of the 2020 Presidential campaign. This piece came out just prior to the first debate of the Democratic presidential candidates so it does have a particular perspective yet it points to the important focus of this issue for this time.
Another helpful resource is the online article in HealthyPeople.gov from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. You can find a list of other informative resources at the bottom of this webpage.
Let’s take this opportunity to join in working for a change. We can become better informed, contact our legislators and local health care providers, and speak out in public forums to help inform others of the need for radical reform. Together, let’s support equal maternity and infant care for all women!
Let us pray –
O God, the giver of life for all. We come to you with our prayers for women and children around the world and within our communities who are suffering because of lack of support for their health and well-being. There are some who are denied health care; there are others who are far away from help. But we know that no one is outside your reach for an abundant life and wholeness. Thank you for challenging us and giving us the opportunity to participate in your work in the world. May we be faithful to speak out for quality maternal-infant care for all women and babies regardless of race, nationality, and economic status. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
~ The Rev. Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council