America is a leader in many respects, but there is an alarming exception: We are the only industrialized nation on earth where the rate of mothers dying before, during and after childbirth is growing. As a citizen, legislator and expectant mother myself, I refuse to sit idly by while we lose more women each year.
When I was first sworn in to Congress eight years ago, there was a gaping hole in policy focused on maternal health needs in general. So, I joined with a Democrat colleague and together, we started the bipartisan Maternity Care Caucus, the first of its kind to focus on legislation to improve health outcomes for moms and babies. We got to work right away enacting common-sense changes to federal law to allow moms to transport breast milk through airport security; encourage manufacturers to add folic acid to corn masa so there’d be fewer Hispanic babies born with defects; and improve research on making medications safe for expectant mothers.
Now, our mission is to save moms’ lives. Literally. Maternal mortality is a public health emergency and a national crisis. About 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) report that was recently released. Alarmingly, black mothers are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related deaths as other women. Those in rural areas face higher-than-average death rates as well.
It’s simply staggering that we are losing this many moms during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum in 21st Century America, especially when CDC reports most of these deaths are preventable. But the preventability is where the promise lies, too.
I’m working hard to reverse this trend and make childbirth safer in our country. We’ve taken an important first step; the president signed into law my bipartisan Preventing Maternal Deaths Act last December. This bill marks the largest step Congress has taken to date to address the increasing rise of moms dying in the U.S. We know we have this growing national health crisis – maternal mortality – but we don’t fully understand why. This bill supports and establishes local committees to fully understand why women are dying, and what’s behind the racial and geographic disparities.
Although these committees will be local, and therefore able to better track factors unique to certain areas of the country, they’ll have the support of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC will help support these Maternal Mortality Review Committees to ensure that, not only is every single maternal death being investigated, but recommendations are being made and followed to save moms’ lives.
I’m one of a few – but growing – number of moms with young children in Congress. My husband and I will welcome our third child at the end of this month. We’ve confronted our own maternity health challenges in our journey, and I’ve talked to countless other moms who have experienced the same. I’m bringing these experiences and stories to the table as we seek an end to the maternal mortality crisis.
America should be a safe, welcoming place for every woman to have a baby. It’s well past time we stand up for and advocate for the women across our country who choose one of the highest callings – motherhood.
Jaime Herrera Beutler was first elected to Congress at the age of 31 to represent Southwest Washington’s 3rd District.