Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) made an impassioned plea on Wednesday urging the country to focus on the high rate of maternal mortality in black women.
“Black women in America are three to four times more like to die than white women because they choose to become mothers and want to raise those children to be productive members of society,” Harris said at an event hosted by the progressive organization Center for American Progress on racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality.
“That is a truth, uncomfortable though it may make us,” Harris said. “It is a truth that must be spoken.”
The U.S. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and is one of 13 countries where the rates of pregnancy-related illnesses and deaths are actually worse than they were 25 years ago. Black women are 243 percent more likely than white women to die from pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications.
Harris, who is the second black woman ever elected to the Senate, has made it her mission to fix this problem, starting with the racism found in America’s health care system.
“At its core, one of the biggest parts of the problem is that this is an issue that’s about race,” she said. “And this is an issue that’s also about implicit bias.”
In August, Harris introduced a bill aimed at reducing racial biases in maternal health care. The bill, called the Maternal CARE Act, creates incentives for medical schools to educate students about racial bias in maternal health care so that it can be prevented in the future.
During her Wednesday address, Harris recalled seeing her mother, a scientist and breast cancer researcher, come home upset over the way women were treated by men in the health care system.
“As a child, I became aware of and learned that these [gender] disparities exist,” Harris said.
“We need to do to understand that women in the health care system must be given dignity,” she continued. “They must be listened to. They must be taken seriously. They must be given respect. They must be given a sense of dignity about understanding that when they tell you something, listen. When they tell you what they need, listen. They know what they need when they tell you. Hear them.”