Rep. Pressley Fights for Justice for Incarcerated Mothers

March 10, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), founding member of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, introduced H.R. 6129, the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act, bold legislation to improve maternal health care and support for pregnant individuals who are incarcerated. The bill is being introduced in conjunction with the Black Maternal Health Momnibus package – a set of 9 bills aimed at addressing the Black maternal health crisis – and it builds on the framework laid out in Rep. Pressley’s People’s Justice Guarantee to transform the American criminal legal system into one that guarantees justice for all. 

“We have an incarceration crisis in this country and women make up one of its fastest growing populations - yet one of the most overlooked,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Eighty percent of incarcerated women are mothers and five percent of incarcerated women arrive to prison pregnant. These women are often most at risk for maternal health complications, denied critical bonding time with their newborns, and face physical and mental health complications that are exacerbated by inadequate health care. The Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act would help change that by creating systems to protect the health and dignity of incarcerated women and enlist them as partners in our fight for justice and equity.”

Specifically, the Justice for Incarcerated Moms Act would:

  1. Encourage states to end the practice of shackling pregnant individuals by tying federal funding eligibility to states that enact anti-shackling laws;
  2. 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;
  3. 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
  4. Create the first-ever comprehensive study to understand the scope of the maternal and infant health crisis among incarcerated individuals.

Congresswoman Pressley introduced the bill at an event co-convened by Congresswomen Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12), Co-Chairs of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), the Senate lead for the Momnibus package, and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act seeks to holistically address the Black maternal health crisis. The legislative package makes strategic investments in social determinants of health, community-based organizations, the growth and diversification of the perinatal workforce, improvements in data collection and quality measures, digital tools like telehealth, and innovative payment models. In addition to direct efforts to improve Black maternal health outcomes, the Momnibus Act focuses on high-risk populations, including women veterans, incarcerated individuals, and Native Americans.

“While 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 across the county,” said Congresswoman Underwood, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. “The Black Maternal Health Momnibus is a sweeping effort to address our nation’s maternal mortality crisis through effective, evidence-based, and culturally competent solutions. The time to end preventable maternal mortality and close racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes is long overdue. With the Black Maternal Health Momnibus, we can work together to solve this crisis right now. New moms and their children and families deserve nothing less.”

 

“For decades, the US maternal mortality and morbidity rates have gotten worse for all mothers, but especially for Black women whose health outcomes are further compounded by systemic and structural racism,” said Congresswoman Adams, co-founder and co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. “The Black Maternal Health Momnibus is an historic piece of legislation that not only fills existing gaps in maternal healthcare, but also works to address pervasive maternal health disparities through solutions that are culturally-congruent and proven effective. The Momnibus provides a new roadmap to ensure our healthcare systems, providers, and society truly make Black maternal and infant health a priority. This legislation says, unequivocally, that Black Moms matter. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to unveil a comprehensive package that tackles one of the greatest public health crises of our time.”

Congresswoman Pressley has been a longtime champion of both reproductive justice and of radically transforming America’s criminal legal system. Last year, she introduced H. Res. 702, The People’s Justice Guarantee ─ a comprehensive framework to transform the American criminal legal system into one that guarantees justice for all.  She also introduced the Healthy MOMMIES Act with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to expand Medicaid coverage for new moms from 60-days post-partum to one year. Congresswoman Pressley is also a lead co-sponsor of H.R. 4996, the Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019. During the October 2019 district work period, she convened a roundtable meeting with maternal health advocates and practitioners in the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District.

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