Hearing explores vision for Black maternal health

Lawmakers examine how policy can change reality

HARRISBURG, April 13 – The House Majority Policy Committee hosted a hearing on Black maternal health and the troubling statistics involving Black mothers and birthing individuals and maternal mortality rates. The hearing corresponded with Black Maternal Health Week, which offers the public a chance to deepen the conversations about Black maternal mortality and Black maternal health in our commonwealth.

“This is a very serious conversation about a crisis happening across our country and throughout Pennsylvania,” said hearing host Rep. Gina H. Curry, who represents portions of Delaware County. “The purpose of today’s hearing is to shine a light on this issue. We are asking people to listen and take this issue to heart, realize action is needed and make transformation possible. Our end goal is to save lives.”  

Among resource-rich nations, the United States is the least-safest country to have a baby. Furthermore, Pennsylvania falls in the bottom half of the nation for maternal mortality rates – ranking 26th in the country.

“The testimony we heard today highlighted the fact systemic racism and gender-based bias play a major factor in Black maternal mortality,” said hearing co-host Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, who represents portions of Allegheny County. “Today’s hearing amplified the message that Black mamas and birthing individuals need to be heard. One way to ensure that becomes a reality is Pennsylvania needs more people in the medical and perinatal field who look like the people they are working alongside to deliver healthy babies and eliminate birth outcome disparities. We also heard one solution is prioritizing doulas and covering their services through Medicaid, who provide emotional, information and physical support before, during and after childbirth.”

The committee heard testimony from Dr. Sharee Livingston, an OB/GYN from Lancaster County and the founder of Patients R Waiting; and Jada Shirriel, the CEO of Healthy Start Pittsburgh Inc.

“This is not standard, nor is it usual or acceptable,” said Dr. Livingston, noting that 92% of deaths were preventable. “This issue should matter to you, because everyone has a mother, and when moms die, it has a ripple and lasting effect. It leaves a lasting effect for children, support people, family members, communities and the entire human race.”

Livingston noted prioritizing and normalizing doulas is key, in order to ensure Pennsylvania decreases disparate health outcomes. She noted, society would never expect a doctor to have a side hustle in order to earn a living wage, and doulas and nurses should not have to work a side hustle to earn a living.

Earlier in the day, Curry and Mayes marked Black Maternal Health Week with a press conference in the Capitol rotunda. A recording of the press conference can be found here.

The press conference kicked off a day of advocacy for the issue and for the first time organized by the Democratic Caucus. Speakers at the conference included:

Information about this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy. Testimony for today’s hearing can be found here. A recording of today’s hearing can be found here. Photos to be used for publication can be found at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.