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The Congressional Push To Protect Maternal Health

The United States is the only developed nation where the overall maternal mortality rate is on the rise, and black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. In Illinois, the racial disparity is even worse.

Congresswoman Robin Kelly sat down with Reset to talk about the Helping MOMS Act of 2019, a bill she’s sponsoring to address maternal health issues.

On why she’s pushing to improve maternal health

Rep. Robin Kelly: I'm the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, and … information came to us about three years ago through what happened with Judge Hatchett and her daughter-in-law.

Her daughter-in-law was having her second baby and she delivered the baby, but there were complications after delivery. … The family noticed and asked for help, and then there were tests that were ordered and the tests never came. Then hours went by, … [and] when they finally did the tests, they had to rush her right to the operating room. When they opened her up, she died immediately, a heart attack. ... It just seemed like more and more stories came out after that time.

On what she hears from constituents about childbirth

Kelly: Maternal mortality ... cuts across all socioeconomic levels. It happens to highly educated [women]. It happens to women, period. But it happens to ... black women more. And it doesn't matter if you're highly educated, if you have money, if you're in good shape ... it cuts across all of that. I think the feeling is that women in general, black women in particular, were not listened to or, you know, we can tolerate more pain, you know, things like that. So that's where you get to the part about — I don't like to use the word cultural competency, but I'd just say ... cultural understanding and respect, you know, a medical professional that understands you, your community, your realities, ... I think that some of that is missing.

On what’s next for the Helping MOMS Act

Kelly: It was voted out of committee, so now it'll come to the House floor. And hopefully, since it's bipartisan, it'll pass … off of the House floor. Then it goes to the Senate where many things have gone to die, … but I'm hoping since we have a lot of Republicans on the bill that Mitch McConnell will call this bill, because ... there's 10 states that are really bad and and Kentucky is number 13. So his state is not doing so well either when it comes to maternal mortality. So I'm hoping that the bill gets called.

On what she wants her constituents to know ahead of 2020

Kelly: Many of my constituents come to me and say, ‘Impeach [President Trump].’ ... But ...what I want the constituents to know, even though we are involved in this impeachment, ... we are still legislating. … There were 275 bipartisan bills, but at least 400 bills that have gone over to the Senate, so it's not that we're not doing our job. Obviously, we just talked about maternal mortality, around health care, around voting rights, ... around ethics and ... economic development. … We can't help it that Mitch McConnell is more interested in, you know, getting judges in then it seems like anything else. But we are still doing our job, so we are still legislating.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.

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