Monday, October 4, 2021 – Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed The California Momnibus Act (SB 65) into law, marking a significant victory for reproductive justice and the battle against the Black maternal and infant mortality and morbidity crisis in the United States. Authored by Senator Nancy Skinner and with Black Women for Wellness Action Project (BWWAP) as a lead co-sponsor, The California Momnibus Act is a robust and innovative piece of legislation that re-imagines perinatal care in an effort to close the racial disparities gap in maternal health outcomes, and improve the birthing experience for all birthing people in California.
“California is leading a movement long overdue. Governor Newson signing SB 65 brings our state into the forefront of tackling maternal deaths and severe injury due to pregnancy. Black Women for Wellness Action Project knows that there is plenty of work ahead, but every journey starts with a first step, and this step today is critical,” said Nourbese Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “BWWAP is dedicated to tackling the egregious death rates experienced by Black mommas, and we are thankful that we have allies and partners inGovernor Newsom, Senator Skinner and her staff, and Western Center on Law & Poverty on this journey. We are ready to continue the work with this bill signing. Here is another tool, resource and strategy for tackling Black health inequities. With this signature, California takes a huge step in re-imaging maternal care for our most vulnerable pregnant folk while setting the bar for the rest of the country. Our sincere thanks to the community of Black women leaders, advocates and activists who are actively engaged as we move the needle on eliminating health disparities Black women experience. BWWAP is delighted that the broader legislature is investing in pregnant folks and babies and setting the bar a bit higher in policy and programs addressing maternal and infant mortality and morbidity. Our communities, advocates and organizations, leaders, parents and children will have additional tools and resources to close the gap and eliminate unnecessary deaths of moms and babies.”
Black Women for Wellness Action Project joined the California Nurse-Midwives Association, March of Dimes, Naral Pro-Choice California, National Health Law Program, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Women’s Foundation California Dr. Beatriz María Solís Policy Institute as sponsors of SB 65.
A report released earlier this month by the Maternal and Child Health Division of the California Department of Public Health revealed that the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black
women was four to six times greater than that of other racial and ethnic groups, indicating a negative trend or widening disparity. Although California has reduced the rates of maternal mortality over the past 30 years, mortality and morbidity for Black and Indigenous/Native American pregnant people, women, and infants remain considerably higher than the state’s average. Research points to structural racism and socioeconomic factors as contributing to the racial and geographic disparities seen in birthing outcomes of people of color. Moreover, California is experiencing a critical shortage of perinatal providers, as currently nine counties do not have a single OBGYN, but leading national and international maternal health organizations have noted that access to midwifery care is a key strategy in improving patient outcomes and reducing racial disparities in birth outcomes.
“It is significant that Black Women for Wellness Action Project, an organization that is led by Black women and advocates for the dignity and safety Black birthing people, is a lead co-sponsor of The California “Momnibus” Act,” said Andria Hancock-Crear, Board Vice President of Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “The unique voice of BWWAP, the knowledge of the lived experience of black pregnant folks and the ability to translate the needs of this community into policy was essential to ensuring that this legislation will help to transform how care is delivered and how data about Black maternal and infant outcomes is collected.”
“The maternal and infant mortality and morbidity crisis has persisted for far too long, and a change in the conditions that contribute to the disparities in our state was long overdue,” said Juana Rosa Cavero, Board Secretary of Black Women for Wellness Action Project. “A systems level change was necessary — change that engages state agencies and institutions, and the California Momnibus Act does just that! BWWAP has been unwavering in our advocacy for Black mommas and babies and it is our constant drumbeat for Reproductive Justice solutions to this crisis that has made a difference.”
Earlier this summer, Governor Newsom signaled California’s commitment to improving maternal health outcomes by incorporating critical components of the original parts of SB 65 into California’s final budget for 2021-2022. This means: doula services and extended postpartum coverage are included as Medi-Cal benefits; an increase in the CalWORKS supplement for pregnant people; and a guaranteed income pilot that prioritizes pregnant people will soon be a reality for a large swath of Californians. Although maternal health enjoyed significant wins through California’s budget this year, critical steps to achieve equity remain and we are thrilled that Governor Newsom continues to see this commitment through by signing groundbreaking legislation into law.
Background on SB 65
Through meaningful and responsive interventions, SB 65 addresses the maternal mortality crisis in California and advances equity in birthing outcomes by:
- Codifying and expanding California’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Committee to investigate maternal mortality and morbidity with a mandate to look specifically at: racial and socioeconimc disparities; Queer, Trans, and Gender Non-Conforming birthing outcomes, and make recommendations for best practices to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity.
- Updating data collection and protocols for counties that participate in the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Process.
- Clarifying that pregnant people are exempt from CalWORKS welfare-to-work requirements.
- Building the midwifery workforce by establishing a fund for midwife training programs that meet the priorities of admitting underrepresented groups and those from underserved communities, or prioritize training and placement of graduates in California’s maternity care deserts.
BWWAP is proud to be one of the original co-sponsors leading the charge on SB 65. We commend the Governor and Legislature for joining us in our re-imagining of maternal health in California. These investments in California’s maternal health infrastructure are critical for reducing the disparate outcomes that plague Black mommas and babies, so we look forward to working with the Administration on the implementation of these pieces. We are deeply grateful for the partnership and tireless efforts of our fellow co-sponsors and coalition partners and the fearless leadership of Senator Nancy Skinner.
BWWAP is committed to the health and well being of Black women and girls and seeks to ensure this through building the political and electoral power of Black women statewide and sponsoring innovative policy grounded in reproductive justice principles.