California Moves to Slash Black Maternal Mortality with New Legislation, Attorney General Partners with Lawmakers for Compliance and Dignity in Childbirth

California Moves to Slash Black Maternal Mortality with New Legislation, Attorney General Partners with Lawmakers for Compliance and Dignity in ChildbirthSource: Google Street View
Eric Tanaka
Published on February 12, 2024

In an aggressive move to combat the startling rates of Black maternal mortality, Attorney General Rob Bonta, along with the California Legislative Black Caucus, rolled out new legislation Monday targeting implicit bias in healthcare. According to a statement obtained by the California Department of Justice, the proposed bill, AB 2319, aims to enforce the California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act of 2019 by strengthening training protocols and introducing penalties for non-compliance.

Marking significant strides from an initial meager 17% compliance rate, healthcare facilities have reportedly amped up adherence to 81%, thanks to the Department of Justice's probing investigations. "It is a tragic reality that race continues to be a factor in maternal health and infant mortality rates not just in California, but across this country," Attorney General Bonta told the California Department of Justice. Despite the improvements, the need for full compliance remains a pressing issue that AB 2319 seeks to address.

Assemblywoman Lori D. Wilson of the California Legislative Black Caucus has taken the fight for improved Black maternal health outcomes as a personal crusade. "Black women in California face alarming disparities in maternal health outcomes," Wilson told the California Department of Justice. The bill they've put forth intends to refine the accountability measures as health facilities continue to navigate toward full compliance.

Concerns brought up by Assemblymember Mia Bonta emphasize the pervasive issue wherein healthcare providers fail to properly respond to the symptoms and concerns of pregnant persons of color, informed by underlying implicit biases. "California has been proactive in taking the steps to address this bias, but gaps in the process still exist," Assemblymember Bonta stated in the report by the California Department of Justice. With AB 2319's comprehensive requirements, the aim is to deliver high-quality healthcare for all women and birthing people to ensure not just safe births but dignified ones as well.

The bill proposes clarity on which healthcare employees need bias training, and it sets definitive deadlines for those trainings. Moreover, it authorizes the California Department of Public Health and the Attorney General to enforce compliance, complemented by public postings of compliance data and stringent penalties for defaulting facilities. Additionally, the legislation includes inclusive language to consider nonbinary individuals and transgender men who also experience pregnancy and childbirth.

Advocates like Sandra Poole from the Western Center on Law & Poverty applaud the move as a crucial step in holding healthcare systems accountable for providing equitable care. Shannon Olivieri Hovis of Reproductive Freedom for All California also praised the bill, "California is a national leader when it comes to reproductive freedom...but we still have tremendous work to do to ensure that all Black women and pregnant people in our state have access to quality, equitable, and unbiased care," she stated, backing Attorney General Bonta's and Assemblymember Wilson's leadership.

The urgency of this issue is underscored by the disproportionate impact on Black communities, where Black women constitute 5% of California's pregnant population but account for a staggering 21% of pregnancy-related deaths. AB 2319's passage would be a pivotal moment in the state's continued efforts to eliminate these disparities and safeguard the lives and dignity of its mothers and newborns.