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Rep. John Conyers Headshot

Celebrate Mother's Day: Reduce America's Maternal Mortality

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While flowers and greeting cards are thoughtful, millions of American women need something more important on this Mother's Day: lifesaving preventive health care.

Maternal mortality rates have doubled over the past 25 years. It's now more dangerous to give birth in the United States than in 47 other nations around the world. According to recent statistics, approximately 52,000 women suffer near fatal pregnancy-related complications each year. While Healthy People 2010, a nationwide health promotion and disease prevention agenda presented by the Department of Health and Human Services, set a goal of reducing maternal mortality to 4.3 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2010, we are still far short of this target.

The problem is not just the overall statistics. It's also the glaring and worsening disparities in maternal health. African-American women are three to four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. This disturbing disparity holds true across all educational and income levels. During the period from 2006 to 2009, the CDC reported that the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for non-Hispanic white women was 11.7 deaths per 100,000 live births compared to 35.6 deaths per 100,000 live births for non-Hispanic black women.

Risk factors that contribute to the growing scourge of maternal mortality and morbidity include obesity, type-2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, high rates of Cesarean sections, and the increasing average age of childbirth. Many women do not enter pregnancy healthy, which further complicates the situation. But some of the biggest contributing factors include financial and linguistic barriers to obtaining health care, as well as a lack of information about prenatal care and family planning options, and a lack of comprehensive data to understand and address health system issues.

America's mothers deserve better.

Congress can improve maternal health outcomes and address maternal health disparities by enacting H.R. 4216, the "Maternal Health Accountability Act." This legislation, which I was proud to introduce with my colleague Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado, would promote accountability and shared responsibility between states, the Federal Government, and healthcare providers to identify opportunities for improvement of care and means to educate health professionals, women and families about preventing pregnancy-related deaths and complications. It would also develop a model for states to operate maternal mortality reviews and assess and monitor factors -- ranging from health system deficiencies to racial disparities to inadequate nutrition -- that underlie the crisis.

This Mother's Day, I encourage Americans to shower the mothers in their lives with gifts and affection. But I also urge my colleagues in Congress to seize the opportunity to ensure that American women have a safe and healthy journey to motherhood.