Racism, not race, is killing Black, Brown, and Indigenous people in our maternity care system.
On Saturday, July 25th, readers of the New York Times opened up their paper to find an entire page with an urgent policy platform and a moral question in bold type: How Many Black, Brown, and Indigenous People Have to Die Giving Birth? The open letter penned by birth and reproductive justice movement leaders, doulas, and midwives addresses the entire country and offers a vision and demands for a world where everyone can seek the type of care at birth that meets their needs and affirms their human rights.
At Provide, we envision a healthcare system that cares for the whole person with dignity and respect, and where workers have the tools and support to offer the best care. We join the call for institutional and governmental accountability for birth justice and legal guarantees for safe, respectful, anti-racist care. We encourage the Provide community to take action: add your name to the open letter, share the information with your circles, and amplify the demands for birth justice now!
In the United States, women are more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and birth than in 54 other high-resource countries, and most of these deaths are preventable. For the first time, a woman is twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as her mother was a generation ago. This burden is not equally shared.
For Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, childbirth in the U.S. is often not the joyous experience we all deserve. Too often, these communities are denied equal access to respectful, high-quality maternity care that is free from bias and discrimination. In maternity care units across the country, they are treated with condescension, disregard, neglect, and fear-based coercion. When asserting their rights to informed consent, bodily autonomy, and self determination, they are subject to surveillance and policing under the same systems of structural racism that discriminate, control, and criminalize.
These injustices that start at birth took the lives of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, George Floyd, Shantel Davis, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, as well as Erica Garner, Shalon Irving, Kira Johnson, Amber Rose Isaac, Sha-Asia Washington, and too many other Black people who were victims of medical racism in the maternal health care system. That’s why birth justice matters.
Quality, equitable, and respectful care in childbirth is an essential human right. It’s not enough to just talk about health equity. This is not just about implicit bias or the racism of individual providers. We need a complete systematic overhaul of the full spectrum of reproductive health care and maternity care in the U.S.
We envision a reality where:
- All people have meaningful options regarding where, how, and with whom they will give birth and can expect respectful, person-centered, anti-racist models of care.
- Midwives, doulas, and perinatal support services are fully integrated into maternity care, and all health care professions reflect the diversity of the patients they serve.
- The human rights of all people to decide whether to have or not have children and to parent children in safe and sustainable communities are protected, respected, and fulfilled, regardless of where they live or their health insurance coverage.
- Transformative justice remedies, like community tribunals, are available when human rights violations, obstetric violence, and mistreatment occur in health care settings.
We demand systemic change that is grounded in reproductive justice and promotes an anti-racist model of health care. This begins with:
- Passing the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (H.R. 6142/S.3424) in Congress to make 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.
- Advancing legislative proposals, like the BREATHE Act, to divest from the system of over-policing Black, Brown, and Indigenous people and instead invest in new approaches to maintain safe and sustainable communities for all people.
- Providing legal guarantees to respectful, non-discriminatory maternity care and transparent mechanisms that hold health systems and government accountable for incidents of obstetric violence, mistreatment, and human rights violations in childbirth.
- Redirecting resources to amplify, promote, and implement solutions developed by Black, Brown, and Indigenous leaders addressing maternal health disparities.
- Transforming training requirements for all health professionals to deliver anti-racist, culturally humble care rooted in human rights.
How people are treated as they bring children into the world is not only a legal issue; it’s a measure of our society. Now is the time to show to the world that birth justice matters.
Use your voice and platform to spread awareness and encourage your community to join you in taking action to advance birth justice. Download the social media toolkit to share graphics outlining the coalition’s demands and the reasons why they matter.
- Educate: Share the argument for birth justice from the open letter.
- Share the vision: Let your networks know what we envision when we call for birth justice in the United States.
- Demand concrete action: Inform everyone of the concrete demands the birth justice now movement is making.