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October 19, 2022

Pressley, Oversight Committee, Black Maternal Health Caucus Unveil New Report Revealing Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic on Black Maternal Health Crisis

Shows COVID-19 Contributed to More than One-Quarter of Maternal Deaths During 2020 and 2021

Report (PDF)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), a member of the House Oversight Committee and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, along with Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Lauren Underwood and Rep. Alma S. Adams, Ph.D., Co-Chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus; Rep. Robin Kelly, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust; Oversight Committee Member Rep. Cori Bush; and Rep. Gwen Moore, released a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report examining the impact of COVID-19 on maternal health outcomes across the United States.

“Maternal health justice is a racial justice issue, and this damning report reveals how our nation’s Black maternal morbidity crisis, compounded by the pandemic, has expanded, deepening the pain and trauma felt by Black families.  Structural racism in healthcare must be directly confronted in order to save lives,” said Rep. Pressley.  “I’m grateful to Chairwoman Maloney and our colleagues for their partnership in commissioning this report.  We must continue to fight for maternal health justice at all levels of government and make comprehensive, culturally-congruent reproductive care a reality for all.”

“Last year, as we saw rising maternal death rates across the country, I joined my colleagues in asking the Government Accountability Office to assess how the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated America’s maternal health crisis,” said Chairwoman Maloney.  “Today’s report shows that the maternal mortality rate during the pandemic was two and a half times higher for Black women.  Every life lost during childbirth is a preventable tragedy.  Today’s findings reaffirm that Congress must take bold action to advance maternal health equity and end America’s maternal health crisis—including by further expanding access to postpartum Medicaid coverage and passing the Momnibus.”

“GAO’s findings are deeply troubling, and they serve as an urgent reminder that our maternal health crisis demands immediate and serious action,” said Rep. Underwood.  “We commissioned this report to fully understand how the COVID-19 pandemic worsened maternal health outcomes, especially among women of color who already experience elevated maternal death rates.  It’s clear from the report’s findings that we must invest in evidence-based solutions – like the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act I introduced with Congresswoman Adams and Senator Booker – to end our nation’s maternal health crisis and save moms’ lives.”

“The Black Maternal Health crisis is preventable – and that’s something we know because we have the data,” said Rep. Adams.  “Earlier this year, USA Today reported ‘roughly 4 in 5 maternal deaths in a two-year period, were due to preventable causes.’  Good data is essential for overcoming the Black maternal health crisis, and this report gives us another tool we can use to improve maternal mortality and morbidity outcomes.  We need solutions now, because our mamas can’t wait.”

“Unfortunately, this report confirms what many had feared – the maternal mortality crisis has only worsened during COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Kelly.  “This report is proof that Black women were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.  We have known that maternal mortality is worsening.  We have known that Black women experience certain complications more.  We have known that Black women have diminished access to maternal health care, especially after delivery.  Congress must take action to pass legislation, like extending postpartum coverage and passing my MOMMAs Act, that will save lives and allow all mothers to give birth safely.”

“This GAO report unfortunately confirms what we already knew: the maternal mortality crisis was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued to disproportionately harm and claim the lives of Black and brown people,” said Rep. Bush.  “Maternal health and infant mortality are among the strongest indicators of our nation’s overall health and well-being.  That Black and brown people are more likely to die during childbirth than our white counterparts is all we need to know to put every tool we have into ending this entirely preventable crisis.  I will continue to sponsor and support legislative action, including partnering with my colleagues on the House Oversight Committee and Black Maternal Health Caucus, to prioritize the health and well-being of all pregnant people.”

“Before the pandemic, Black mothers were already dying at 3-5 times the rate of white women from childbirth complications.  With COVID-19 limiting access to care and increasing the misery index for many, it’s vital that we understand its toll on our maternal health crisis,” said Rep. Moore.

During the Committee’s May 6, 2021, hearing examining America’s Black maternal health crisis, Chairwoman Maloney announced that the Members commissioned three new GAO studies to examine the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on maternal mortality and morbidity, the state of America’s perinatal workforce, and the disproportionate impact of the Black maternal health crisis on people who are incarcerated.

Below are findings from GAO’s new report:

  • GAO estimates that COVID-19 was a contributing factor in one quarter of maternal deaths that occurred in 2020 and 2021, which increased during this time.
  • In 2021, the rate of maternal deaths among Black women was 2.5 times higher than the rate of maternal deaths among white women.  Black women experienced 68.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, as compared to 27.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births among white women.
  • Between 2019 and 2021, the maternal mortality rate among Hispanic women more than doubled—from 12.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (2019) to 27.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (2021). 
  • Adverse maternal health outcomes—including preterm and low birthweight births and self-reported depression persisted during the pandemic, as did racial disparities in these adverse outcomes.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services and stakeholders determined that COVID-19’s impact on inequities in the social determinants of health—such as the ability to access care, employment, transportation, and living environment—as well as racism were responsible for worsening maternal health outcomes. 

Click here to read today’s GAO report.

Rep. Pressley is a founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus and is committed to ending the Black maternal mortality crisis in America and affirming maternal health justice for all. She has introduced the MOMMIES Act with Senator Cory Booker to extend postpartum Medicaid coverage for pregnant people and expand coverage to include culturally competent and community based doula care, as well as the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act, legislation to improve maternal health care and support for pregnant individuals who are incarcerated. 

In June 2021, Rep. Pressley and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced the Support Through Loss Act, to raise awareness about pregnancy loss and establish new paid leave benefits for workers experiencing painful challenges while seeking to grow their family.