Today, the New Jersey Assembly Health Committee advanced Assembly Bill 5472, a bill that would establish the New Jersey Maternal and Infant Health Innovation Center Act and with it a dedicated authority responsible for the coordinating of research, strategy and implementation of policy geared towards reducing maternal mortality, morbidity and racial disparities in this state. Salvation and Social Justice alongside Greater Mount Zion CDC, Melanin and Maternal Wellness, other birthing advocate partners and the directly impacted stood in solidarity with Black mothers, children and families throughout this state.
New Jersey’s Black maternal and infant mortality rates are among the worst disparities in the nation. A Black infant in New Jersey is more than three times more likely than a white infant to die before their first birthday. Black women die from pregnancy related causes at 7.6 times the rate of white women. Black women in this state experience preterm births at a rate of nearly 14% compared to white women whose preterm birth rates are closer to 8%.
For too long, the negative and harmful experiences of Black women at the hands of health care professionals have been dismissed as largely anecdotal. Historically, there’s been a tendency to point to poverty and other convenient tropes as an indicator of these disparities, resulting in further harm and legislative inaction. We know that across the United States, childbirth is deadliest for Black families regardless of socioeconomic standing, education, or marital status. Race is not at the root of the maternal health disparities in this state…but structural racism is. While health care professionals and policy makers have yet to identify an antidote to counteract the poison that is racism, Black women, Black led organizations and directly impacted communities have been at the helm of this conversation and have prescribed necessary steps to address the harms that have been committed to Black mothers, children and families through systemic medical neglect and violence. Those steps include:
Adopting policy that would commit to the intentional outreach, recruitment and support of Black women in midwifery programs as a response to the maternal health disparities that exist in the state. Studies have shown that not only are Black mothers and children more likely to live when cared for by a Black physician, but that employing midwifery and doula services yields the best maternal health outcomes. Historically, Black women were pushed out of the midwifery profession with the emergence of maternity institutions and private obstetrics practices that were deeply rooted in racist traditions…traditions that continue to perpetuate harm to our communities today.
Address the erosion to access of maternity care by funding neighborhood maternal health centers in Black communities like Trenton and Plainfield, who have seen widespread closures of maternity care units and have become virtual “birthing desert” cities. We urge lawmakers to allocate dollars towards the rebuilding of these critical sources to health and supporting entities such as the Greater Mount Zion Community Development Corp, that has established its Birthing Center and Maternal Wellness Hub.
Adopting a statewide guaranteed income pilot program that would provide pregnant, Black women with unconditional monthly stipends for a length of time intended to provide economic stability during this vulnerable and most critical time in their lives. While we understand that economic security does not guarantee favorable maternal health outcomes, we know that Black women continue to be excluded from many resources needed to have safe and healthy pregnancies. With a racial wealth gap of $300,000, we understand this lack of access to be that much more acute in New Jersey, and guaranteed income programs have demonstrated proven success in staving off the vicious cycle of poverty.
SandSJ supports A5472 because it would provide the necessary supports by way of significant state investments to establish an entity tasked with leading the coordination and implementation of education, policymaking, research, innovation, perinatal workforce development and more. While we support this bill, we do so while stressing the importance of ensuring that Black led entities are not only present at the decision-making table, but that Black led entities are adequately resourced to provide the Black cultural congruency and continuity of care that is critical to combatting the maternal health crisis that has existed in this state for too long. We want to thank Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson for her leadership in sponsoring this bill, as well as all of you who showed up to share your powerful testimonies and expertise.
Watch the testimonies below.
Jeannine LaRue, Chairwoman of Greater Mt. Zion Community Development Corporation
Rosalee Boyer, First Lady of Greater Mt. Zion AME Church and Developmental Director of Salvation and Social Justice
Joy Brooks, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Registered Nurse
Crystal Charley, Senior Organizer at Salvation and Social Justice
Racquel Romans-Henry, Policy Director at Salvation and Social Justice