California Program to Improve Maternal Health Outcomes for Black Women Faces Lawsuit from Conservatives Claiming It’s ‘Racially Exclusionary’

A program to help fight obstetric racism in California is facing a lawsuit following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found affirmative action at college universities to be unconstitutional.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black women are three to four times more likely to die in labor or from related complications than white women in the United States, and Abundant Birth Project provides monthly stipends to help Black and Pacific Islander moms receive proper medical care in San Francisco. However, conservative groups are suing the program, claiming it discriminates by providing grants based on race.

California Maternal Health Program for Black Women Helping Fight Against Obstetric Racism Faces Lawsuit
(Photo: Pexels / George Jr Kamau)

The Los Angeles Times reports that Ruth Parker and Ellen Lee Zhou from the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation filed the lawsuit last May to “halt the illegal use of government resources and public funds to provide cash benefits to San Francisco residents on a discriminatory basis.”  

“Most prominently, these government-sponsored and publicly funded programs are
designed to select beneficiaries on a racially exclusionary basis,” reads the lawsuit. “This is unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit also targets guaranteed-income programs that help artists, Black young adults and transgender people, claiming the programs “select beneficiaries on a racially exclusionary basis.”

Abundant Birth Project was created in 2021 to “reduce preterm birth” to ensure that “all children have a healthy start at life.”

Black infants are twice as likely than white babies to be born prematurely and to die before they turn 1. Asian American infants are 40 percent more likely to die from complications during childbirth than white mothers, and Black and Native American women are three and two times higher, respectively, to have pregnancy-related deaths compared to white women. 

One young mother and recipient of the program, 20-year-old Briana Jones, recalled being 15, terrified and crying out after experiencing extreme pain while giving birth to her first child in a San Francisco hospital and being told by a nurse to “shut up,” as she told KFF Health News. She later learned about the Abundant Birth Project and used the grant to get an apartment, drive to prenatal appointments and buy healthy food while pregnant with her second child.

“Where I live, it’s nothing but struggle here, people trying to make ends meet,” she said. “For them to try to take this program away from us, it’s wrong.”

California state awarded $5 million to expand the program to include four more counties for Black and Pacific Islander moms back in 2022. The Abundant Birth Project has provided 150 mothers up to $1,000 monthly for 12 months.

However, the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and the law firm American Civil Rights Project in Dallas, Texas, claim that San Francisco and California are violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment — which was passed after the Civil War to give rights to formerly enslaved people — by providing grant money to Black and Pacific Islander women exclusively.

The executive director of the American Civil Rights Project, Dan Morenoff, told The Los Angeles Times that the Abundant Birth Project giving grants based on race is “unconstitutional.”

“The city and county of San Francisco crafted the Abundant Birth Project with the express intention of picking beneficiaries based on race,” said Morenoff. “It’s unconstitutional. They can’t legally do it, and we are optimistic that the courts will not allow them to continue to do it.”

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