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How do Black maternal healthcare disparities affect Pittsburgh communities?

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Written by Vaishnavi Peyyety, Red & Black Current Events Staff Writer

Activist Bekezela Mguni, a doula and reproductive justice activist speaks at W&J. (Courtesy Regan Carlson)

According to the Pittsburgh Gender Equity Commission, the Black maternal mortality rate in Pittsburgh is higher than that of 97 percent of U.S. cities. In Pittsburgh, the fetal mortality rate is twice as high for Black and African American babies as it is for White babies.
The issues of racism and discrimination extend into employment, poverty, and college readiness for Black women in Pittsburgh and other major cities. The executive director of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission, Anupama Jain, states that “these are not surprising results to most people who live the inequality. Who [the statistics] might surprise are people who don’t recognize that they are perpetuating these inequalities.” Black men in Pittsburgh experience a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many detrimental outcomes. Junia Howell is an urban sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh who believes that by combating these inequalities, we can make the city more “livable for our black residents.”

Anupama Jain, states that “these are not surprising results to most people who live the inequality. Who [the statistics] might surprise are people who don’t recognize that they are perpetuating these inequalities.”
Students discuss abortion access post-Roe at the 2023 Symposium on Democracy, particularly how Black individuals are disproportionately disadvantaged (Courtesy Regan Carlson)
Allegheny County, which encompasses over 130 municipalities in Western Pennsylvania including Pittsburgh, enacted the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act in 2021. This federal policy aims to provide equitable perinatal care across all levels and to target “every dimension of the maternal health crisis in America.” Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Doyle and Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey have co-sponsored this act.

Some of the bills within the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act are listed below with brief summaries:

  1. Social Determinants for Moms Act

Addresses social determinants (economic stability, environmental health, neighborhoods & housing, etc.) of health to end maternal health disparities.

Funds areas include housing, childcare access, community-based organizations, etc. to meet the needs of their communities.

Kira Johnson Act

  1. a. Funds community organizations. Increases employee training for anti-racism and discrimination. Begins Respectful Maternity Care Compliance Programs in healthcare settings, allowing people to report bias.

  2. b. Funds programs to diversify perinatal workforce to provide culturally congruent care.

  3. Moms Matter Act

  4. a. Addresses tendencies for substance abuse accounting for maternal deaths.

  5. b. Increases awareness of mental health struggles of pre and post-pregnant individuals by investing in community-based programs that provide mental health services.

  6. 4. Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act

  7. a. Address the statistic that incarcerated Black women have twice the mortality and morbidity rate than that of white women by decreasing the number of pregnant people in state and local prisons.

  8. b. Funds programs (perinatal health workers, re-entry assistance, counseling) in jails for pregnant and post-partum people.

  9. 5. Tech to Save Moms Act

  10. a. Increases funding for technology services for perinatal care providers in underserved areas.

  11. b. Evaluates innovative technology and digital tools to address racial disparities in new models of maternity care.

  12. 6. Impact to Save Moms

  13. a. Determines ways in which to allow pregnant and postpartum people continued healthcare insurance coverage.

  14. b. Creates alternative perinatal care payment models to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities.

Establishing these initiatives and regulations can help create much-needed changes in Allegheny County. It can also increase trust in the medical system. This is not an exhaustive list of bills that have been established to provide comprehensive maternity care.

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