Representative Shelia Stubbs of Madison was joined by Milwaukee Senator LeTanya Johnson and others in a press conference this morning to introduce the Birth Equity Act.
The Birth Equity Act includes six bills, which seek to address the racial inequities that Black and Indigenous pregnant women and newborns face.
In 2018, Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services reported that Black women in Wisconsin were five times more likely to die from childbirth than white women, and Black infants were three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthday.
Representative Stubbs says that is unacceptable.
“Wisconsin is ranked one of the worst states in our nation for the maternal and health outcomes, and the worst for racial disparities and infant mortalities. Wisconsin is the worst place to raise a Black family. In essence, it is one of the worst states for mothers of color and their children,” said Stubbs.
The Birth Equity Act is not the first attempt to address Wisconsin’s birth inequities.
The Healthy Women, Healthy Babies Initiative was introduced in the 2021 State Budget, and would have set aside $28 million to give women greater access to cancer screens, STI testing, and provide healthier pregnancies. Senate Republicans removed it from the budget.
The first bill in the Birth Equity Act would allow postpartum home visits for infants and mothers within seven days of being discharged from the hospital, free of charge. The hospitals are not allowed to ask for payment from these visits, and Stubbs says it allows both the mother and infant to have a proper recovery after childbirth.
The second bill would require Medicaid to cover mental health screenings for mothers, to help with postpartum depression. Katrina Morrison, the Health Equity Director for the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, says that women of color are more likely than others to experience postpartum depression.
“According to the CDC, Postpartum Depression affects one in nine women, however this condition does not affect all women equally, and is often underreported. Women of color are at a higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression, and are less likely to even be screened in the postpartum period. One study found that Black and Hispanic women are twice as likely to experience postpartum depression symptoms,” said Morrison.
The third bill in the Birth Equity Act would prohibit sales tax on all breast pumps, breast pump kits, breast pump storage, and collection supplies.
Senator Johnson says that these bills are critical for the health and wellness of Wisconsin mothers.
“It is time, it is beyond time, that we make these infant mortality disparities nonexistent. There’s no reason why a babies lifespan should be decreased by the time they are born, simply because of their zip code, the color of their skin, or their economic status. That has to stop. And this legislation, for so many African-American babies, and their mothers, is a matter of life or death,” said Johnson.
The other bills in the package would, among other things, provide financial aid to pregnant mothers to receive dental care and allow pregnant women to join an employer’s health insurance plan — regardless of how long they’ve been pregnant.
The bills are now in circulation to find co-sponsors.
Image Courtesy: Andrae Ricketts / UNSPLASH