Black Maternal Health week highlights disparities in care for pregnant women of color

Wednesday wraps up Black Maternal Health Week, which is meant to shine a light on issues Black women face during and after pregnancy.

“There’s a real, tangible fear that happens to Black women when they go to deliver their child,” said Prince George’s County councilmember Krystal Oriadha.

And that fear is not unfounded. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women and research has shown this to be true despite age or economic status.

The top causes of death are hemorrhage and heart issues, as well as preeclampsia.

Black women also deal with higher instances of diabetes and hypertension, with Prince George’s County leading the way in maternal mortality rates in the state of Maryland.

“When we talk about what Prince George’s County has, our numbers are horrible,” Oriadha said. “Some people think because we’re in Prince George’s County, we’re supposed to be known as one of the most prominent Black-educated affluent counties in the country, that this wouldn’t be an issue here, but it is.”

Oriadha is also a new mom – her baby Ezra turns six months old today. Maternal health is a cause close to heart.

“It was something I experienced in my own childbirth, they just didn’t believe me. I tried to tell them over and over again that I was in pain and something was wrong, and they didn’t realize I was in 10 hours of active labor until I was crowning,” Oriadha recalled. “And that happens to so many women – they’re just not believed.”

RELATED: Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to provide protections for millions of expectant mothers

Oriadha recently released a ‘Black Mother’s Guide’ to provide resources for families about doulas, diaper pantries, mommy groups, lactation experts all in one place.

On the national level this week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, issued its final rules for the ‘Pregnant Workers Fairness Act’ – a bipartisan-backed law that forces employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations.

Those accommodations include things like water or bathroom breaks, teleworking if needed, and changes to schedules – as well as unpaid time off for pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, like abortions. 

The law went into effect in June 2023, but the EEOC just issued its final regulations this week.  It covers employers with 15 or more employees, the same threshold for other civil rights laws.

EEOC Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels said the PWFA is transformative and fills in gaps in current federal law.

“It means that pregnant employees will no longer have to choose between a job and the health of their pregnancies and that employers will be able to benefit from keeping people in the workplace when they are fully capable of doing the jobs for which they were hired,” Samuels said. 

People can file charges with the EEOC if they believe they have been denied accommodations to trigger an investigation. If it’s determined that discrimination has occurred, Samuels said they will have multiple voluntary settlement conversations with employers. 

“But ultimately, if we cannot voluntarily resolve a complaint we think shows discrimination, we have the authority to take an employer to court to hold it accountable,” she added.

According to the US Census Bureau, 72 percent of working women will become pregnant while employed at some point in their lives.

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