NYC Council To Vote On Public Advocate’s Legislation To Protect Maternal Health And Wellness

August 11th, 2022

Press Release

Today, the New York City Council will vote on major legislation aimed at supporting maternal health and wellness and particularly targeted at reducing Black maternal mortality and pervasive maternal health disparities. The legislation, sponsored by Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams and co-prime sponsored by Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson, would create a maternal health bill of rights, and ensure that all pregnant people in New York City have access to that information when they need it most. The legislation is expected to pass, after being approved by the Committee on Health on Wednesday.

In the United States, Black women are three times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts – in New York City, Black women are eight to twelve times more likely to die. This is often rooted in medical personnel overlooking, minimizing, or dismissing the health concerns of Black patients. Action on these issues is decades overdue, and while the current administration has taken some steps to address this inequity, maternal mortality and morbidity remains a problem – especially for Black women and pregnant people. Today’s vote is a massive step forwards for all pregnant people in the five boroughs, and towards building a safer and more equitable New York City.

“Birth equity is a social justice issue — and it’s one that’s especially urgent and deadly in New York City,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “This public health crisis is both under-acknowledged and under-addressed, but today, City Council will take invaluable and concrete steps to protect pregnant people in New York City. Through the creation of a maternal health bill of rights with dedicated and sustained outreach to inform people of those rights, we are ensuring that these rights are upheld and New Yorkers are empowered to demand what they deserve. New York City cannot end the maternal mortality divide alone, so we are also calling on the federal government to pass and enact the Momnibus Act to save lives across the country. Thank you to Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson for your partnership on both this bill and this issue, and to the City Council for taking up these bills.”

The first bill being voted on by the New York City Council today is Intro 86-A, a landmark piece of legislation that will establish a maternal health bill of rights and ensure a standard set of care for all pregnant people in New York City. It will require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), together with the Commission on Human Rights, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and community organizations, to create a public education campaign in facilities that provide obstetric and gynecological care informing patients about the City Standards for Respectful Care at Birth, the right to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, and health care proxy forms.

The legislation will also require DOHMH to inform patients about the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and New York's paid family leave program through promotional materials at their locations. Information is essential to body autonomy and empowering people to seek the care they deserve, and anyone giving birth in New York City should know the rights and options available to them.

The Council will also vote on Resolution 92, which calls on the United States Congress to pass and President Joseph Biden to sign the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. The federal legislation would provide grant funding for maternal health research, fund community based organizations focused on Black maternal health, and invest in a wide range of tools to improve maternal health outcomes, particularly in underserved areas and among marginalized groups. The Act also would also ensure continuity of health insurance coverage for the duration of labor, delivery, and postpartum care.

Resolution 244, which calls on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase funding for By My Side, a doula program under Healthy Start Brooklyn, will also be voted on by the City Council. By My Side and Healthy Start Brooklyn bring care to communities too often underserved, and lower the economic barriers that have prevented some pregnant people from seeking critical care. With greater funding, By My Side can provide doulas to all low-income birthing people in New York City – a critical advocate in the delivery room, especially for New Yorkers of more color – and expand their prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care.

This critical legislation comes amid a years long push in the Office of the Public Advocate to end the maternal mortality crisis in New York City, and only months after the Public Advocate shared his own family’s struggles with maternal health.

This winter, after a long fertility struggle, a difficult pregnancy, and premature delivery, the Public Advocate and his wife welcomed their newborn daughter, Amani Elisadora. They have shared their story publicly in recent weeks and months in the hopes that it helps other New Yorkers feel supported, heard, and receive the care they need.

Last year, the Office of Public Advocate released an extensive report on the maternal mortality crisis, entitled Equitable Pregnancy Outcomes for Black and Brown New Yorkers, which analyzes systemic issues and outlines potential policy solutions.

“We are in a state of emergency in our country when Black women are still three times more likely to die during childbirth and the mortality rate is even higher for Black women living in New York City,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson. “Black birthing individuals in our city and across the United States, deserve to receive culturally sensitive, patient-centered care that is attuned to their unique needs free of bias and racism that has resulted in the deaths of too many pregnant people. With today`s legislation, we are saying enough is enough, and that New York City will take action to ensure birthing persons are aware of their rights and are protected under the law. Thank you to Public Advocate Jumaane Williams for his partnership in pushing Intro 86-A forward, Speaker Adrienne Adams, the Women`s Caucus, and our doulas, midwives, and birth workers for their advocacy in ensuring all birthing individuals in our city receive the unbiased maternal care that they deserve before, during, and after childbirth.”

"Reproductive rights are human rights and we all, by birthright and citizenship, deserve to experience those rights equitably and humanely," Shawnee Benton Gibson, activist and Co-Founder of the ARIAH Foundation. "The enactment and application of this legislation is one part of a comprehensive plan to save the lives of black mothers, birthing people and babies across New York City who are most impacted by the scourge of maternal morbidity and mortality. As a reproductive activist and advocate, I see this legislation as one of many pathways toward activating and elevating birth equity and restorative justice. We must continue to repair the ruptures in the reproductive healthcare system so that the quality of care for BIPOC community members is aligned with what they desire and deserve."

"As a black mother, pre and post-natal care aren't the same for all mothers," said NYC Council Majority Whip Selvena N. Brooks-Powers. "Creating standards of care, similar to a healthcare bill of rights, ensures that all patients, no matter race or creed, are treated fairly and equitably, provided vital information through a public education campaign. I applaud NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, my City Council colleagues, and the courageous advocates for continuing to safeguard all mothers' healthcare."

“I’m proud to join my colleagues today as we vote on a bold legislative package that will give New Yorkers and their families safe birth options for New Yorkers and their families, including access to doulas and appropriate communication about the risks of c-sections,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera. “Pregnant people shouldn’t have to fight for what’s essential to their health. This package is a blueprint for equity and accountability – now let’s get it passed.”

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