U.S. Senator Tina Smith Backs Legislation to Combat Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Crisis During COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. [08/12/20]—U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), a member of the Senate Health Committee, joined Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and additional colleagues in introducing legislation to ensure pregnant peopleespecially pregnant people of colorare included in federal government’s coronavirus public health response. The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would improve research and data collection, safeguard the health of pregnant and postpartum individuals, and dedicate resources to combat the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This legislation confronts the structural racism that drives disparities in maternal health outcomes by prioritizing racial equity and tasking the federal government with improving the delivery of and access to anti-racist, culturally congruent, and respectful maternity care. 

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) understanding of the specific impact of COVID-19 on pregnant people is limited, in part due to a lack of robust data collection. The data CDC has managed to collect suggests that pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and are at a higher risk for intensive care unit admissions than nonpregnant women. The CDC has also found that Hispanic and Black pregnant women were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. As of August 4, 2020, over 15,000 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19 and 37 pregnant women have died.

“We need to prevent maternal mortality and morbidity during the COVID-19 pandemic by helping individuals—especially people of color—access excellent health care,” said Senator Smith. “That requires bold action to root out systemic racism, injustice and inequalities in health care and beyond. This bill is an important step in making sure pregnant people get better support and are included in the federal government’s coronavirus public health response.”

This maternal mortality and morbidity crisis is fueled by racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities, comorbidities, inadequate access to the health care system, and structural racism – the same factors that have contributed to the substantial racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. 

The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would: 

  • Improve Data Collection, Research, and Surveillance Initiatives. The bill requires the CDC to coordinate, collect, and publicly post data related to COVID-19 and pregnancy disaggregated by race, ethnicity, state, and tribal location. The bill also authorizes funding for CDC’s pregnancy surveillance programs and the National Institutes of Health’s research programs. It also mandates the CDC to consult with Tribes and confer with urban Indian organizations, in collaboration with the Indian Health Service.
  • Ensure the Inclusion of Pregnant People in Vaccine and Therapeutic Development for COVID-19. This bill directs the NIH to ensure that at least one COVID-19 vaccine is developed and made available for use in pregnancy and lactation. It adds reporting and data collection requirements for COVID-19 therapeutic and vaccine developers regarding their product’s use in pregnancy and lactation. And it emphasizes the inclusion of pregnant people, including those from underrepresented populations, in clinical trials when safe and appropriate.
  • Improve Public Health Information and Communication for Pregnant People. The bill directs the CDC to undertake a robust public health education effort aimed at informing pregnant people, their employers, and their providers about the latest evidence-based health information. It also requires the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard for pregnant workers and all workers.
  • Ensure Lasting Maternal Health Care and Birthing Experience Improvements. The bill defines anti-racist, culturally congruent, and respectful maternity care and seeks to improve the provision of this type of care. It creates a Task Force on Birthing Experience and Safe, Respectful Maternity Care to develop federal recommendations to ensure the provision of quality, nondiscriminatory maternity care and the improvement of maternal health outcomes during the COVID-19 public health emergency. It also mandates a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency to assess the delivery of maternal care during the pandemic and make recommendations for future pandemic preparedness and response related to maternal care.

The legislation is endorsed by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,  Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Center for American Progress, Center for Reproductive Rights, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, Every Mother Counts, March of Dimes, March for Moms, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Partnership for Women and Families, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. 

You can read a summary of the bill here