WASHINGTON (WDVM) — The United Health Foundation reports D.C.’s maternal mortality rate was 35.6 deaths per 100,000 births in 2019; higher than the national rate, which was 29.6. Black women die at higher rates than others; in 2019, the rate was 71 deaths per 100,000 births. 

In a press release, Councilmember Christina Henderson’s office reported “about half of Black women and more than 1 in 3 Hispanic women in D.C. do not get prenatal care until their second or third trimester.” If passed, Henderson’s Maternal Health Resources and Access Act of 2021 would address maternal mortality rates among women of color. The bill was up for debate during the D.C. Committee on Health’s public hearing Monday. 

CEO of Planned Parenthood Metro Washington Laura Meyers blames the disparity on “centuries of systemic racism and lack of investment in Black communities.” Planned Parenthood Metro Washington supports the bill.

There are no maternity wards east of the Anacostia River, home to Wards 7 and 8. According to DC Health Matters, over 91% of Ward 7 and 8 residents are Black and African American. The Maternal Health Resources and Access Act “requires a feasibility study” to open a birthing center in the region. It also provides transportation subsidies to rideshare services that drive women to their maternal health appointments. 

“Going back to the role of racism in healthcare and particularly how Black people are treated within our healthcare system — in terms of not pursuing symptoms, not being believed — all of those things must change because it has dire consequences. Tragic consequences,” Meyers said.

The bill also “establishes a pilot program for Medicaid reimbursements of doula services.” Meyers says doulas not only serve as an advocate for women while they’re in labor, but they also reduce the rates of Cesarean sections (C-sections) and mortality.