California Takes New Steps To Stop Black Women From Dying In Childbirth

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Monday aiming to address the issue of Black women dying in childbirth at disproportionately high rates compared to their white peers.

The legislation, authored by California state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D), will require hospitals and clinics in the state to implement implicit bias training for all health care providers working in perinatal services. Sponsored by NARAL, Black Women for Wellness and other groups, the bill also requires the state’s health department to track and publish additional data around pregnancy-related deaths in an effort to better understand the issue. 

The U.S. has the worst maternal mortality rate among all developed countries. And the risk of pregnancy-related deaths is three to four times higher for Black women than for white women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are fully preventable — and they can happen up to a year after a person gives birth, according to a recent CDC report.

“Black women do deserve better,” Mitchell, who is a Black mother, said in a news release last month. “Bias, implicit or explicit, should no longer impact a woman’s ability to deliver a full-term baby or to survive childbirth.” 

“I charge Black women to ask their provider before selecting an obstetrician, ‘Have you gone through implicit bias training? Because I want to increase the likelihood of my survival when delivering this baby,’” she added. 

The issue of Black maternal mortality garnered new attention recently after tennis star Serena Williams and singer Beyoncé publicly discussed the difficulties and complications they faced in childbirth. 

Lawmakers — including Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Cory Booker (N.J.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) — have also raised alarm about the high rates of maternal mortality in the U.S, specifically for Black women. 

“The best studies that I’ve seen put it down to just one thing: prejudice,” Warren said at a forum in April. “Doctors and nurses don’t hear African American women’s medical issues the same way as they hear the same things from white women.”

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