Gets Real: Lawmakers, advocates explore solutions to improve pregnancy outcomes for Black women

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Charles Johnson said April 12, 2016, was supposed to be a joyous day for him and his wife, Kira. The two were expecting the birth of their second boy.


But instead, he said it become a nightmare.

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“When I walked into that hospital that afternoon the thought that my wife would not walk out to raise her boys it never crossed my mind,” said Johnson.

Johnson said his wife died from internal bleeding after a c-section.

Charles Johnson said his wife died from internal bleeding after a c-section.

Their story isn’t unusual. CDC data reveals Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication than white women. It finds more than 80 percent of those deaths are also preventable.

“It should be a fundamental human right for a mother to give birth to a healthy baby in country and live to raise those children,” said Johnson.

Read: Black doctors call out ‘broken’ system for health care professionals

Since then, Johnson has created 4Kira4Moms, a national nonprofit to help improve maternal health.

On Capitol Hill Tuesday, members of Congress met with advocates like Johnson for the Black Maternal Health Caucus 2023 Stakeholder Summit. This comes as some lawmakers say the U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country.

“To offer their feedback, their solutions, what’s working what’s not working where they need help to inform our work here in the congress,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood (D – Illinois).

Lawmakers also explored how to advance the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act. It’s a series of bills aimed at improving pregnancy outcomes for Black women.

This includes expanding access to midwives and doulas and diversifying the workforce that helps before and after birth

“The data tells us that maternal outcomes are better for mom and baby, if there’s a linguistic congruency, or there’s a shared ethnic background, when that provider understands what’s going on with that family,” said Underwood.

Read: Paperwork problems drive surge in people losing Medicaid health coverage

Congresswoman Underwood re-introduced the legislation earlier this year. Johnson is now urging lawmakers from both parties to make it a priority.

“This is a human rights issue,” said Johnson. “Every single person that is elected to represent the people in our country should prioritize and stand up and say that enough is enough and it’s time to protect mothers and babies.”

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Part of the Momnibus Act would also improve maternal health care and support for incarcerated mothers.