Updated: Jun 19
Kathleen Felli comments on the reintroduction of the Momnibus Act by congressional Democrats and how it fits into the goal of reproductive justice.
The day after Mother’s Day, Senate and House Democrats revealed their intention to reintroduce the Black Maternal Momnibus Act to “address every driver of maternal mortality, morbidity, and disparities in the United States.”
A nearly $1 billion effort to curb high rates of Black maternal mortality, the Momnibus Act intends to tackle the issue from multiple angles, including but not limited to:
Extending WIC eligibility for postpartum period
Improving mental health care for incarcerated mothers
Diversifying the perinatal workforce
Providing funding to community-based organizations that are working to improve maternal outcomes and promote equity
Investing in community-based initiatives to reduce exposure to climate change-related risks for mothers and their children
When examining all thirteen bills that encompass the Momnibus Act, there is a clear intent on reducing mortality through economic, social, and environmental avenues. Such scope is reflective of the ever-growing efforts to center women’s issues around the goal of reproductive justice. Different from typical pro-choice advocacy, reproductive justice is meant to expand upon the basic right to bodily autonomy and examine the other circumstances that impact a woman’s choice to carry a child. For Black women in particular, systemic racism has dictated their ability to mother their children, especially knowing the social, political, and economic disadvantages they will face postpartum.
However, the Momnibus Act also reveals the crossroads that women in America face concerning their treatment by elected officials. A year removed from the Dobbs decision, state legislatures have been systematically working their way through stripping abortion access in its entirety. These laws are being passed primarily in southern states, with low income and non-white women being completely cut off from their already limited access to healthcare services.
With that in mind, the lack of abortion access in the Momnibus proposal suggests a hesitancy from congressional democrats to swing the pendulum back in the favor of women. While I can commend them for finally acknowledging that motherhood is more than just the bodily aspect, work cannot be done without the insurance that Black women can choose to not be mothers in the event that the legislature fails to eradicate systemic racism in America (very likely).
I am not saying this to undercut the importance of the legislation, but rather to emphasize the interconnectedness that maternal mortality has with other issues that mothers (and non-mothers) face. Separating mortality from other women’s issues is a symptom of a greater political system that disincentivizes legislators from taking a comprehensive approach to justice. Even without the inclusion of abortion access, the Momnibus Act faces the potential to be defanged or – even worse – lost in the abyss of the congressional committee.
In the following months, members of congress will reveal how invested they are in protecting Black mothers from the various social and economic disadvantages that they face. Will they be empty words? Or, will the Momnibus Act be a step to the goal of achieving reproductive justice?
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