Photo by WJFW Newswatch 12
Birth Equity Act aims to disrupt racial disparities in maternal and infant health
Story By Cooper Henckel
Local News Published 10/13/2021 1:32PM, Last Updated 10/13/2021 6:39PM
Madison - The state of Wisconsin consistently ranks among the worst states for black families. A package of bills aims to change that, what advocates call a step in the right direction to change racial inequality in the Badger State.
"Our mothers and our babies deserve to live," said Rep. Shelia Stubbs.
Department of Health Services data from 2016 to 2018 shows Black infants and mothers in Wisconsin face serious risks. Black mothers are five times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth than their white counterparts. Black infants are three times more likely than white babies to die before reaching their first birthdays.
Racial health disparities aren't unique to Wisconsin, but the severity of the difference is.
"Wisconsin is ranked one of the worst states in our nation for maternal health outcomes and the worst for racial disparities in infant mortality," said Stubbs.
A package of bills announced Tuesday aims to disrupt that pattern. The Birth Equity Act includes a variety of provisions targeted at addressing the most severe aspects of infant and maternal mortality in Wisconsin.
"There's no reason that a baby's lifespan should be decreased by the time that they're born simply because of their zip code, the color of their skin, or their economic status," said Sen. LaTonya Johnson. "That has to stop."
The bills would expand BadgerCare coverage, increase mental health resources for pregnant and post-natal women, as well as providing for post-birth checkups from specialized birth coaches called doulas.
"At this visit, a doula would provide breastfeeding support, evaluate the social and emotional wellbeing of the mother and child, and overall, provide a holistic wellness check," said Katrina Morrison, health equity director for Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health.
Legislators and advocates say this package won't solve everything, but it will provide immediate help for a crisis they say gets a lot of talk, but little action.
"But continuing not to put money and funding where the resources are most needed ensures that not only will we continue to see these rates, but they will only continue to grow," said Johnson.