NYC Public Advocate Advances Maternal Health Legislation In Council Hearing

June 29th, 2022

Press Release

Today, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams pushed for passage of his legislation aimed at countering New York’s maternal mortality crisis. In testimony for a joint hearing of the Committee on Health and the Committee on Hospitals in the City Council, the Public Advocate stressed the urgency of action on both a local and federal level to address maternal health inequities and injustices.

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 persons.

The Public Advocate’s first bill, Intro 0086, would establish a maternal health bill of rights, requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to initiate a public education campaign on city standards for respectful care at birth, health care proxy, and patients’ rights to be placed in all facilities that provide obstetric and gynecological care. 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. This legislation would make that information available when patients need it most.

Intro 0086, “will allow for more exposure of information to reach the public, especially those who lack access to safe services and resources,” the Public Advocate explained. “This is especially important for communities of more color and immigrant communities who only have access to their local public hospital and are disproportionately affected by maternal mortality.”

The Public Advocate also discussed two resolutions critical to combating the maternal morbidity crisis both in New York City and nationally. The first calls on the United States Congress to pass, and President Joe Biden to sign, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. This Act would build on existing legislation to attack the maternal mortality crisis with twelve new bills, and its passage is essential for saving lives and protecting both parents and babies across the country.

The second resolution calls on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to increase funding for By My Side, a doula program under Healthy Start Brooklyn. 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. 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.

“For far too long, maternal mortality has been ignored and those impacts have been unheard,” the Public Advocate argued in his statement. “It is time to protect them, particularly women and all pregnant people in communities of more color, who have disproportionately experienced maternal healthcare inequities.”

Today’s hearing comes amid a years-long push in the Office of the Public Advocate to combat 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 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 crisis, entitled Equitable Pregnancy Outcomes for Black and Brown New Yorkers, which analyzes systemic issues and outlines potential policy solutions.

Read and download the Public Advocate’s full statement in support of these bills here.

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