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February 8, 2021

Rep. Pressley Continues Her Fight for Maternal Health Justice

Bill Text (PDF) | One-Pager (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), a founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, reintroduced the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act, bold legislation to improve maternal health care and support for pregnant individuals who are incarcerated. The legislation was re-introduced as part of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Package—a suite of 12 bills aimed at addressing the Black maternal health crisis—and builds upon the Congresswoman’s People’s Justice Guarantee to transform the American criminal legal system into one that guarantees justice for all. 

“A safe pregnancy should be a right not a privilege, and every person should be able to experience their pregnancy without worrying if they will survive delivery or make it to their child’s first birthday—including women behind the wall,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “The Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act would center the dignity of pregnant people behind the wall by creating systems to protect the health and dignity of incarcerated people and enlist them as partners in our fight for justice and equity. I am grateful to Congresswomen Underwood and Adams for their partnership and the inclusion of my bill in this year’s Momnibus package and look forward to continuing our work together to end the maternal mortality crisis once and for all.”

Specifically, the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act would:

  • Encourage states to end the practice of shackling pregnant individuals by tying federal funding eligibility to states that enact anti-shackling laws;
  • Provide funding for programs to create maternal health programs for incarcerated individuals in federal, state, and local prisons and jails, including access to doulas, healthy food and nutrition, mental health and substance use counseling, and strengthening visitation policies;
  • Provide funding for states and localities to set up primary caretaker diversion programs as alternatives to incarceration for pregnant individuals and primary caretakers of minor children; and
  • Create the first-ever comprehensive study to understand the scope of the maternal and infant health crisis among incarcerated individuals.

The legislation was introduced as part of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, led by Congresswomen Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), which makes investments in social determinants of health, community-based organizations, the growth and diversification of the perinatal workforce, improvements in data collection, and support for moms and babies exposed to climate change-related risks. In addition to direct efforts to improve Black maternal health outcomes, the Momnibus focuses on high-risk populations, including veterans, incarcerated people, Native Americans, and other women and birthing people of color.

“As maternal mortality rates continue to drop around the world, they are rising in the U.S., leaving behind devastated families and children who will grow up never knowing their moms. This crisis demands urgent attention and serious action to save the lives of Black mothers and all women of color and birthing people across the county,” said Congresswoman Underwood, co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. “I’m leading the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act with Representative Alma Adams, Senator Cory Booker, and other Members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus  because no mother should go through pregnancy, labor and delivery, or the postpartum period without the respectful care and comprehensive support they need and deserve. Together, we can – and must – take the bold actions that will be required to save our moms, end disparities, and achieve true maternal health justice.”

“As I’ve said since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disproportionate rate of mortality and morbidity among Black women is a crisis within a crisis,” said Congresswoman Adams. “Tens of thousands of pregnant people have contracted COVID-19, the vast majority being Black and Brown mothers. As the pandemic rages on, access to quality maternal care has decreased as the barriers to receiving care have increased. That’s why, in the 117th Congress, I’m reintroducing the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act and the Kira Johnson Act. I’ll continue to work with Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Cory Booker, and my Caucus co-Chair Representative Lauren Underwood to ensure all everyone has access to high quality maternity care, no matter where they live, how much they earn, or the color of their skin. The Momnibus provides a comprehensive set of policy solutions and a roadmap for addressing maternal health disparities. Black mamas can’t afford to wait.”

“As the rest of the world works to improve maternal health outcomes, skyrocketing maternal mortality rates here in the United States are precipitating a public health crisis — one that puts mothers of color especially at risk,” said Senator Booker. “We simply cannot continue to accept this alarming status quo. This is why I am proud introduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act with Representatives Underwood and Adams that will save moms’ lives and improve health outcomes for all birthing people.” 

The bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Lauren Underwood, Alma S. Adams, Ro Khanna, Nydia M. Velázquez, Lucy McBath, Adam Smith, Mary Gay Scanlon, Al Lawson, Jahana Hayes, G. K. Butterfield, Gwen Moore, Marilyn Strickland, Tim Ryan, Adam B. Schiff, Hank Johnson, Steven Horsford, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Ted Deutch, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Seth Moulton, Darren Soto, Jerrold Nadler, David Trone, Yvette D. Clarke, Jan Schakowsky, Karen Bass, Dwight Evans, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Kathy Castor, Terri A. Sewell, and Nikema Williams.

As a founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Congresswoman Pressley is committed to ending the Black maternal mortality crisis in America and affirming maternal health justice for all. Last May, she introduced the Healthy MOMMIES Act, to extend post-partum Medicaid coverage for pregnant people and expand coverage to include culturally competent and community based doula care. In March 2020, she first introduced  the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act, legislation to improve maternal health care and support for pregnant individuals who are incarcerated. 

In November, at a briefing held by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), Congresswoman Pressley delivered testimony on the growing racial disparities in maternal health and the urgent need to combat the Black maternal mortality crisis. Her full testimony at the briefing is available here.


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