On July 30, 2020, the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed three bipartisan bills to increase birth options and safety for pregnant women in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. One bill establishes a commission to address racial inequities in maternal healthcare; another increases options for safe, professional birthing care by licensing midwifery; and the third bill creates a commission to study barriers to substance use treatment for women in the perinatal period.
“Black women in Massachusetts are twice as likely to die in childbirth as white women, and this unacceptable racial health disparity must be addressed,” said Senator Jason Lewis. “This package of bipartisan bills will advance women’s health and reduce health disparities.”
An Act to reduce racial disparities in maternal health establishes a special commission to address the continuing racial inequities in the Commonwealth’s maternal health outcomes, specifically in cases of maternal mortality and morbidity. Among the developed nations of the world, only the U.S. continues to allow people giving birth to die in increasing numbers, and the outcomes are staggeringly worse for people of color, who experienced a 238% increase in the risk of maternal death between 1978 and 2015.
The commission will bring together diverse perspectives on maternal health and racial health disparities and will include public health experts, physicians, midwives, a doula, and individuals with first-hand experience with health disparities, including a survivor of maternal morbidity. The bill requires that a majority of commission members represent Massachusetts communities most impacted by maternal health inequity, which statistically have been black and brown communities. The commission must submit a report of its findings and recommendations, including any draft legislation necessary to achieve the recommendations of the commission, within one year of its creation.
An Act relative to out-of-hospital birth access and safety creates a licensure process for certified professional midwives who provide home birth services, which are less expensive than hospital-based birth and associated with healthy birth outcomes, including lower rates of Caesarean section and fewer postpartum complications. This credentialing process will standardize midwifery training and qualifications, provide consumers with transparent information when seeking a home birth, and facilitate the hospital transfer process in the event of labor complications.
An Act relative to improving access to treatment for individuals with perinatal substance use disorder creates a special commission to study the barriers to substance use treatment for women in the perinatal period. This commission will bring together the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Department of Public Health (DPH), the Department of Children and Families (DCF), MassHealth, the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, and private partners with expertise in maternal mental health and substance use treatment to ensure all pregnant and postpartum women with substance use disorder have access to the care they need.
These three maternal health bills now move to the House of Representatives for consideration.