NEW YORK – Citing the country’s high maternal mortality rate, United States Conference of Catholics Bishops committee chairmen recently wrote to Congress to encourage lawmakers to address the nation’s maternal health crisis.

In a May 8 letter, the chairmen called on Congress to place a high priority on policies that advance the health, safety, and flourishing of women, children and families. More specifically, the chairmen called for Congress to enact policies that respect life and dignity, honor conscience rights, are “truly affordable,” and provide comprehensive and high-quality health care.

The chairmen also note that the policies are important because health care is a human right, and therefore women must “receive maternal health care that encompasses a holistic view of their inherent dignity and value as expressed in the unique and God-given role of motherhood.”

“While no single policy can fully address the complex maternal health care crisis, the common good demands diligent work to create policies that will improve and protect the health of mothers and their children,” the chairmen state in the letter.

The letter is signed by Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology published research in March that found that maternal death rates in the United States increased by 144 percent from 9.65 per 100,000 live births in 1999-2002 to 23.6 per 100,000 live births in 2018-2021. The research also found that direct obstetric deaths increased from 8.41 per 100,000 live births in 1999-2002 to 14.1 per 100,000 live births in 2018-2021.

In the letter, the USCCB chairmen also highlighted that the data shows that Black and Indigenous women are at particularly high risk, and expressed a general concern over the racial disparities that accompany the rise in maternal mortality and morbidity rates.

They also noted that as pastors they see mothers and families struggling with the impacts of poverty and economic stressors, racism, discrimination, family breakdown, and other forms of injustice as they seek to build and grow their families. They also express concern over the rise in the maternal mortality and morbidity rates and the accompanying racial disparities.

“We urge you to consider policies that, in line with our long-standing health care principles, provide health care formulated to meet the needs of mothers from every walk of life,” the chairmen wrote in the letter.

In the realm of affordability, the chairmen renewed a previous call the conference had made for Congress to require states to provide Medicaid coverage for 12 months postpartum. They also want Congress to give particular attention to poor women and families, especially those who cannot afford insurance but also do not qualify for Medicaid.

“We call for bipartisan collaboration to address the cost of childbirth, with special attention to ensuring that help goes to the mothers and families who need it most,” the chairmen said.

The chairmen also advocated for the passage of the Preventing Maternal Deaths Reauthorization Act and the PREEMIE Reauthorization Act, which they argue would address the maternal mortality crisis and the high rate of preterm births in the United States.

The Preventing Maternal Deaths Reauthorization Act would reauthorize federal support for state-based committees that review pregnancy-related deaths, in an effort to identify the causes to then make recommendations to prevent future mortalities. The bill was passed in the House with bipartisan support in March.

Similarly, The PREEMIE Reauthorization Act – the “Prematurity Research Expansion and Education for Mothers who deliver Infants Early Reauthorization Act” – would aim to improve pregnancy outcomes and infant health by continuing research and education programs aimed at preventing preterm births. The bill was passed in the House with bipartisan support in December.

“These two pieces of legislation would facilitate further understanding of maternal mortality and preterm births and promote efforts to prevent them, and we urge you to pass these bills this term,” the chairmen said.

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