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House approves commission to reduce racial inequities in maternal childbirth deaths

Representative Liz Miranda, pictured here in 2019, is a lead sponsor of the legislation. “Make no mistake — maternal justice is also racial justice,” she said Tuesday.
Representative Liz Miranda, pictured here in 2019, is a lead sponsor of the legislation. “Make no mistake — maternal justice is also racial justice,” she said Tuesday.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File 2019

The Massachusetts House of Representatives voted unanimously on Tuesday to create a commission led by people of color to reduce or eliminate racial inequities in maternal deaths.

“Make no mistake — maternal justice is also racial justice,” said Representative Liz Miranda, a Roxbury Democrat and a lead sponsor of the bill.

The United States has the highest rate of death related to pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world, noted fellow lead sponsor Representative Kay Khan, a Newton Democrat.

“We need to recognize finally that the United States is experiencing a maternal health crisis,” said Khan.

The bill seeks to reduce both maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidities. Maternal mortality is defined in the bill as the death of a woman during pregnancy or within a year of the end of pregnancy. Severe maternal morbidities refer to unexpected outcomes of labor and delivery that cause consequences to a woman’s health, such as a blood transfusion, shock, sepsis, hysterectomy, or eclampsia. Nationwide, Black women are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy than white women nationwide, experts say. Even in Massachusetts, known for having some of the best health care, Black women are twice as likely as white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, and twice as likely to have severe maternal morbidities.

“These inequities are the result of generations of systemic racism in health care,” said Khan, a nurse.

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Miranda, who is Black, said that six of her friends had complications in pregnancy. Her sister lost a baby after birth and almost did not survive.

“The next woman could be my sister, or my constituent, or could be me,” Miranda said. “Every mother counts.”

The bill calls for a 23-member commission including the House and Senate chairs of the joint committee on public health; the commissioner of public health; the chair of the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus; representatives of various health, ob-gyn, and midwifery groups; a public health professional who specializes in racial inequities in maternal health; and a Black person who has lost an immediate family member because of maternal mortality.

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A majority of the members of the commission must be from Black and brown communities and represent those most impacted by inequities, the bill states.

“Addressing the racial inequities in maternal health and providing policy recommendations to the Legislature to fix this public health crisis must center the voices and experiences of those who matter most in this conversation,” said Rebecca Hart Holder, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.

NARAL was supportive of the bill, saying that: “Fighting for reproductive freedom includes fighting for the right to safely have children and raise a family.”

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said in a statement that the bill will save lives.

“The House understands that an important part of addressing racism is battling systemic and institutional barriers to equity, such as racial disparities in health care,” DeLeo said. “We want to make sure all women are treated equitably by our health care system.”

The bill, which now moves to the Senate, calls for a commission to be appointed within a month of the bill’s enactment. The commission would have one year to make its recommendations and file legislation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Representative Kay Khan’s role. She is a lead sponsor of the legislation.

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Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert