As Prepared For Delivery:
When I was 12 years old, I discovered that I had once had a twin brother. He was still-born. And one possible explanation my mother offered—as she sought to make sense of this devastating tragedy—was that she had an obstetrician she had never liked or trusted. She said her doctor back then was always dismissive of her concerns. My Mom suspected that he might have missed something important. Those “what-ifs” haunt me to this day.
By contrast, some twenty years later, when I started having children, I was fortunate to have a first rate OBGYN, an African American woman doctor, who was also a trusted friend. I believe that part of the reason why I had two relatively smooth pregnancies and post-partum periods is because I had a caring, attentive doctor who respected me and listened to me.
Today’s event has been a powerful reminder of how personal and painful maternal health issues are for so many women—and of the disparate toll maternal complications take on Black women and other women of color. We’ve heard from Senators, Congresswomen, and Cabinet Secretaries. Public health officials, and one of the most decorated Olympians of all time, Allyson Felix. We’ve listened to heartbreaking stories of Americans from every background who have lived—and sometimes died from—this trauma, stories that echoed ones we heard at a maternal health roundtable Vice President Harris and I held in April.
Today is a Day of Action, and I hope what we’ve heard spurs us all to act with still greater urgency. There is absolutely no reason that in a country as rich and powerful as the United States of America, more women should die during pregnancy than in any other developed nation. There is no reason that Black and Native women should be two to three times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. There is certainly no reason that maternal mortality rates should be getting worse, with more women dying in childbirth today than 25 years ago.
I hope our biggest takeaway from today is this: These deaths and complications are not only unacceptable—they are largely preventable. And, because they are preventable, we must prevent them.
That’s why, as you’ve heard, we’re mobilizing the entire federal government to tackle this crisis. We know that maternal health is more than just what happens in the doctor’s office. It’s affected by what food a pregnant woman has access to. Where she lives. How her doctors and nurses are trained.
So, we’re using every tool in our toolbox. Not only the Domestic Policy Council, but our newly-established Gender Policy Council. Not only the Department of Health and Human Services, but the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency. We’re focused on ensuring that women have a voice in their own health care. Increasing maternal health care access and coverage. Enhancing data collection and accountability. Expanding and diversifying the workforce that cares for pregnant women, so that it reflects the communities it serves. Strengthening the economic and social supports growing families need.
As the Vice President and others have underscored, the best way to achieve these goals is to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. It doesn’t get as much attention as other parts of the legislation, but we’re talking about a historic investment—$3 billion—in maternal health. It would make postpartum coverage mandatory not just for 60 days after delivery, but for that entire, critical first year. It would invest in everything from training providers on bias and discrimination, to increasing the number of nurses and midwives and mental health professionals, to bolstering research, to encouraging innovative maternal health homes that can better coordinate care. Build Back Better would also close the Medicaid coverage gap, allowing millions of women to finally gain access to lifesaving health coverage. Here at the White House, we’ve been working day and night to get this bill passed—and with your support, I’m confident we’ll get it done.
Ensuring better and more equitable maternal health is something to which the President Biden, Vice President Harris, I and the entire Biden-Harris Administration remain deeply committed. So, I want to thank you all for your advocacy. For sharing your stories. For your compassion and courage. And, let’s all leave here more determined than ever to ensure that everyone giving birth in this country—no matter their race or any other factor—receives the dignity and care they deserve.
Thank you very much.