REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS DURING A LISTENING SESSION ON BLACK MATERNAL HEALTH
South Court Auditorium
12:40 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Ambassador Rice. And it is my great honor to welcome these extraordinary leaders for this conversation. You all have been on the ground doing the work of connecting with women around our country. You are national leaders. You are powerful leaders on an issue that still requires so much, in terms of a priority, by all people.
Before we get started, I do want to address the killing of Daunte Wright. He should be alive today. And to his family and loved ones, you must know that the President and I grieve with you as the nation grieves his loss, and we stand with you.
Our nation needs justice and healing. And law enforcement must be held to the highest standards of accountability. At the same time, we know that folks will keep dying if we don’t fully address racial injustice and inequities in our country, from implicit bias to broken systems.
Which brings me to the topic of this moment. This week is Black Maternal Health Week. And make no mistake, Black women in our country are facing a maternal health crisis. Black women are two to three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth than other women. And it is important to note that Native women are 2.3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.
We know the primary reasons why: systemic racial inequities and implicit bias. And the consequences are both very real. Many of the women in this room have experienced them firsthand. And as the ambassador said, we will hear their stories, which they speak with great courage given the pain that they have experienced.
And over the year — years, I’ve heard many stories. Stories of women who are experiencing postpartum depression, only to be dismissed. Stories of women telling their doctors they were experiencing pain, only to be ignored. Stories of women who could not hold their newborn baby because that child had to be on life support or receive a blood transfusion after blood transfusion after blood transfusion.
Black women deserve to be heard. Their voices deserve to be respected. And like all people, they must be treated with dignity.
For years, I’ve been working to address systemic health disparities and advocating for investments in those social determinants that we know influence maternal health — things like housing, transportation, nutrition — and the inequities that exist in all of those systems.
When we talk about Black maternal health, we’re talking about reproductive healthcare — let’s be clear about that. We’re talking about reproductive healthcare.
And another issue that I spent a lot of time on, on that point — as it uniquely and disproportionately affects Black women — are fibroids, which can lead to maternal mortality, especially for Black women.
I also introduced, when I was in the Senate, the Maternal CARE Act to reduce errors in judgement by healthcare professionals that stem from implicit bias.
And last week, President Joe Biden and I announced the Maternal CARE Act is in our budget, dedicating $30 million for implicit bias training for healthcare providers.
Through the American Rescue Plan, we are also lowering health insurance premiums for millions of families, and we are extending Medicaid coverage for people who are postpartum, which is important because we know that Black women are more likely to lose healthcare coverage during their pregnancy than white women.
We’re so proud to do this work alongside healthcare workers, researchers, physicians, nurses, commu- — doulas, and community organizers who have dedicated themselves to this cause. And I just do want to say a point about doulas, because I do believe that doulas are some of the smartest on these issues and must be leaders when we talk about what we need to do to train and have folks understand how to approach these issues in a respectful way.
I also want to thank Black Mamas Matter Alliance, who — building on a resolution from Congresswoman Alma Adams and myself that we introduced before now — started Black Maternal Health Week in 2017. This alliance brought national attention to the issue and lifted up the voice of Black women in the process.
And, finally, I also want to thank my colleagues in the United States Congress who have worked on this issue — in particular, Senator Cory Booker, Congresswoman Robin Kelly, Congresswoman Alma Adams, and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood. They have been extraordinary in, again, highlighting the fact that the United States Congress, leaders at every level, everywhere, must take on this issue. It cannot be for Black women alone to fight for their rights and to fight for their dignity.
And so, to the brave women who are here today, again, we thank you. And I will tell you that, in this White House, you will always be welcome and your voices will always be heard.
And I’ll turn it back to Ambassador Rice.
(The listening session commences.)
(The listening session concludes.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Before we got on camera, we were talking a little bit, as a group. And to the ambassador’s point, listen, it’s really important for — for folks to understand: You are not alone, and don’t let any situation or circumstance make you feel alone. When we feel we are alone, it tends to make us feel that we don’t have power or agency in a moment.
And so when you are in that doctor’s office or that clinic or that hospital or that emergency room, know you are not alone — that you carry the voice and the support of so many women you may not meet who want you to be heard in that room.
And so, we have the experts who can talk to you specifically about the kinds of things that you should be asking when you are in that room and demanding the answer. And know you have a right to get the answer. It is their job to answer your questions. And if they are not doing their job, that is not — that shouldn’t be your problem. Like we were saying, then maybe it’s time to switch the healthcare provider.
But the point of this conversation — and I really appreciate, Erica, what you said — is that — let’s replace silence with storytelling. But everyone should tell the story, and not just those who have experienced it, but everyone else should tell the stories so that we can make sure that we take seriously this issue; we elevate it in a way that, ultimately, we end this issue of Black maternal mortality.
So, thank you all for your courage and for your leadership. Thank you.
END 1:28 P.M. EDT