Vice President Kamala Harris has a full portfolio, but among the issues she’s passionate about is that of maternal health care. Recently, VPOTUS invited ESSENCE to participate in an exclusive media call to outline the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts.
“More women in the U.S. are facing death because of childbirth than in any other developed nation,” said Harris. “Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth,” she noted, than their white counterparts. Native women, and women in rural communities are also disproportionately impacted.
Harris’ remarks came amid the 5th anniversary of Black Maternal Health Week, founded and led by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance. Observed this year from April 11-17, the White House officially recognized the annual week in 2021. President Joe Biden offered a fresh proclamation this year.
Last Wednesday, the Vice President convened a first-of-its-kind meeting with Cabinet secretaries and agency leaders to discuss the Administration’s whole-of-government approach to addressing maternal mortality and morbidity. The leadership assembled from across federal government included HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and Shalanda Young, Director of the Office of Management and Budget. They joined heads of other agencies that heretofore may not have tackled maternal health.
“And this falls in the path of the work, even when I was in the Senate, the work we did with Congresswoman Alma Adams and with [Congresswoman] Lauren Underwood and others,” said Harris, referring to the “Momnibus,” package of bills aimed at broadly addressing maternal health.
Beyond legislation being introduced in Congress, the meeting delved into having more states extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum care; the unique challenges facing expectant mothers in the military and pregnant homeless women; the need for more research on pregnancy; support for doulas and more.
Meanwhile, the Administration’s latest federal budget proposal includes about half a billion dollars to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates. There is also proposed funding for anti-bias training for health care professionals.
“So this is some of the work that we are and have been doing,” said Harris. “We believe addressing these issues will have a generational impact on women, children and their families.”
In recent months, the Vice President has invited women to the White House who’ve lost a child or experienced very difficult pregnancies. They have discussed ways to ensure women and their loved ones are “taken seriously within the system.”
“And so, it is not on the women to be the ones to have to cower down. They have to talk about what their experience is,” Harris said. “And then these medical professionals are supposed to be in the process of listening.”
The Vice President urged women to “know your power, own that power.”
“Do not be silent,” she said. “Do not silently suffer.”