February 11, 2020

In Judiciary Hearing, Harris Speaks Out Against Misleading and Punitive Bill Targeted at Pregnant Women

To view video of Harris’ questioning, click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Tuesday raised serious concerns about the punitive nature of a bill that traffics in misinformation about abortion and seeks to criminalize physicians during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In her question to Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, she expressed her belief that the bill attempts to put the priorities of politicians ahead of the best medical judgement of health providers and professionals.

“Is there any evidence that this bill would improve health outcomes for women and their families?” Harris asked.

“Certainly not,” responded Goss Graves. “And if we wanted to actually improve health outcomes for women, health outcome for babies, there’s a long list of things we could do—whether it is actually investing in rather than cutting Medicaid…food assistance, housing, transportation. Those are things that have all been proven to actually improve pregnancy outcomes, but this bill is not one of those.”

Harris also noted that the United States is one of only 13 countries in the world in which health outcomes for pregnant women are worse today than they were 25 years ago, particularly for Black women. Harris has introduced the Maternal CARE Act, which would invest in implicit bias training throughout the medical profession and work to provide mothers with the culturally competent care they need.

“How do restrictions on access to abortion such as this bill exacerbate the health disparities that women of color face in America today?” Harris asked.

“One of the things that we know is that the restrictions in places like Texas and Louisiana and other states that also have very high maternal mortality rates—especially for Black women—those things are not disconnected. It’s the same states that are shutting down access to care, shutting down clinics, making it harder to get care that also have these extraordinarily high rates,” responded Goss Graves. “And so when I look ahead and think about what this is going to look like for Black women in particular, who have this extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate—which is really an outrage for this country—it’s not just that this bill will do nothing, this bill is among a continuum that is actually harming women and their families.”

Full transcript is below:

HARRIS: Thank you. Ms. Goss Graves good morning. I do believe and I think many of us believe that this bill attempts to put the priorities of politicians ahead of the priorities of medical health providers and professionals as evidence by the fact that even this morning the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose this bill. I’m asking you then, is there any evidence that this bill would improve health outcomes for women and their families?

GOSS GRAVES: Certainly not. And if we wanted to actually improve health outcomes for women, health outcome for babies, there’s a long list of things we could do—whether it is actually investing in rather than cutting Medicaid. There’s a bill that’s moving through the House called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that supports pregnant workers who need accommodation while on the job. There is food assistance, housing, transportation. Those are things that have all been proven to actually improve pregnancy outcomes, but this bill is not one of those.

HARRIS: And it appears that this bill is therefore- the nature of it is punitive as opposed to supportive of the desires and needs of women as it relates to their healthcare and the healthcare that they need and require during the course of their pregnancy. So I ask you does this bill increase the likelihood that women with complicated and potentially dangerous pregnancies will be forced to delay recovery and receiving necessary medical care? Is there a dis-incentive for certain populations of women created by this bill top receive the care they need?

GOSS GRAVES: Well that’s my real worry. The disinformation and the misinformation and the stigma that is wrapped around this bill is precisely the type of thing that would prevent someone from actually getting the care they need when they need it.

HARRIS: And one of the issues that I’ve focused on in improving outcomes for women and their families and particularly women of color, is based on many factors including that the United States is 1 of only 13 countries where the health outcomes for pregnant women are worse today- worse today than 25 years ago. Black women are disproportionally affected. They are twice as likely as white women to suffer life-threatening complications during pregnancy and as we all know Black women are 3-4 more times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women. This is due in part to the implicit bias that is undoubtedly in our health care delivery system. And that’s why we proposed the maternal care act to establish implicit bias training for medical health professionals. So obviously, we need to address the racial disparities both in terms of the outcomes but also the implicit and sometimes the explicit bias that is real in the health care delivery system and we obviously need to address these issues and eliminate the barriers to comprehensive high quality care for all women. So my question is how do restrictions on access to abortion such as this bill exacerbate the health disparities that women of color face in America today?

GOSS GRAVES: One of the things that we know is that the restrictions in places like Texas and Louisiana and other states that also have very high maternal mortality rates—especially for Black women—those things are not disconnected. It’s the same states that are shutting down access to care, shutting down clinics, making it harder to get care that also have these extraordinarily high rates. It’s the same states that haven’t taken the Medicaid expansion and so Medicaid is harder to come by. And now we have this new effort to have a block grant which is only going to lead to even more cuts. About half of births are Medicaid. And so when I look ahead and think about what this is going to look like for Black women in particular, who have this extraordinarily high maternal mortality rate—which is really an outrage for this country—it’s not just that this bill will do nothing, this bill is among a continuum that is actually harming women and their families.

HARRIS: So if the United States Senate really wanted to address the health and well-being of pregnant women, do you think there are smarter ways to go about achieving that goal that I believe we all have be us, Democrats, Republicans or whatever are party affiliation or where we live, what would you propose we do to actually achieve the outcomes this bill reports to have as its goal? 

GOSS GRAVES: I mean you can start by addressing the bias that pregnant patients are facing in healthcare. For Black women, indigenous women in particular you would invest more in Medicaid that would be a hug thing. But you would also deal with the other factors like the pregnant workers fairness act. You’d have things like paid family medical leave so that people actually take of time from work when they’re experiencing pregnancy complications. And you would things like a meaningful investment in housing and food assistance so that people are able to eat healthily during their pregnancies. There are things that could make a difference around pregnancy outcomes.

HARRIS: Thank you. 

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