The Plight of Black and Brown Birthing Individuals

By Kay Matthews, Founder of The Shades of Blue Project, and Kimberly A. Baker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Health Promotion & Behavioral Science

After seeing how policies were directly impacting the lives of the people we served, my collaborative partner Kim, my team, and I made the decision to focus on public policy. To plant ourselves at tables where the well-being and livelihood of the families we serve were being decided.

Since making that decision, we’ve had the opportunity to work on the Momnibus, particularly the Moms Matter Act. That piece of legislation was in Biden’s Build Back Better Plan and would have expanded access to treatment for maternal health conditions.

The passage of that bill would have provided funds to diversify the workforce and hire more therapists of color, and expand access to culturally competent care. The bill would have also allowed for investment in community-based programs to support those who are expecting and in the postpartum period.

Now we’re working with Representative Lauren Underwood of Illinois on the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021. We’re extracting key pieces from the first bill and we’re hopeful the legislation will pass and get funded. What we’re excited to see in this bill is the inclusion of maternal health issues related to COVID-19.

Two more pieces of legislation we’re carefully watching are the Into the Light for Maternal Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Act of 2022 and the TRIUMPH for New Moms Act of 2021.

Into the Light would reauthorize through FY2028 a program that addresses maternal depression and expands its scope to include mental health and substance use disorders. It would also require the Department of Health and Human Services to maintain a national hotline to provide mental health and substance use disorder resources to pregnant and postpartum women and their families.

TRIUMPH would amend the Public Health Service Act and allow the establishment of a Task Force on Maternal Mental Health.

I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when three different bills centered around maternal mental health have been part of the legislative consciousness. Especially since we’re seeing an about-face on women’s reproductive rights.

We’re trying to implement acts to ensure that women have affordable access to healthcare and childcare. We see this gap in the families we serve and with the possible repeal of Roe v. Wade, that gap will widen. Black and brown women and poor rural communities will certainly be negatively impacted.

And for us being in the middle of this crisis, we’re going to have to find new ways to respond. Find new solutions and ask, “what do we need to do now that we weren’t doing before?”

Here again, we find ourselves bridging things together that no one is correlating. Like, abortion care or the lack thereof, and the maternal mental health impact that will likely worsen once these new laws go into effect.

We’re seeing it firsthand but others in our communities are slow to see and respond. Why do we have to wait another five years for experts and legislators to see how abortion care impacts maternal mental health? We’re telling you now because we see it and SB8 isn’t even a year old.

There’s even research that supports this correlation called, The Turnaway Study. This study followed women who were seeking an abortion. They followed women who were able to receive those services and the ones who were turned away—thus the name, The Turnaway Study, Researchers wanted to know what social impacts, what social determinant impacts, what happened to those women who were turned away, including what happened to their mental health.

The tenfold increase in long-term mental health effects of the women who were turned away from having an abortion is apparent. It is in the research. And mind you, this study only included White women. Imagine if the study had included Black and Brown birthing individuals.