Underwood, Warren Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Safeguard Maternal Health During Coronavirus Pandemic

August 10, 2020
Press Release
The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would ensure pregnant people - especially pregnant people of color - are included in the federal government’s coronavirus public health response

WASHINGTON—Today, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), co-chair and co-founder of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced new bicameral legislation to combat maternal mortality and morbidity during the coronavirus pandemic. The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would improve research and data collection and dedicate resources to safeguard the health of pregnant and postpartum individuals. This legislation addresses the unique needs of pregnant people and mothers of color—who research shows confront structural racism that contributes to poor maternal health outcomes—by tasking the federal government with improving the delivery of and access to anti-racist, culturally congruent, and respectful maternity care.  

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) understanding of the specific impact of COVID-19 on pregnant people is limited, in part due to a lack of robust data collection. The data CDC has managed to collect suggests that pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and are at a higher risk for intensive care unit admissions than nonpregnant women. The CDC has also found that Hispanic and Black pregnant women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. As of August 4, 2020, more than15,000 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19, and 37 pregnant women have died. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated our nation’s maternal mortality crisis— increasing health risks for moms, especially Black women and other women of color who have been disproportionately affected,” said Rep. Lauren Underwood. “We must take swift and serious action to better understand and respond to the new threats facing moms. I’m proud to join Senator Warren to introduce the Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act, which makes critical investments to combat our nation’s maternal health crisis during COVID-19. By dedicating resources for improved data collection, inclusive coronavirus vaccine and therapeutic development, and safety in maternity care, we can keep moms protected during this pandemic and beyond.” 

“COVID-19 and the maternal mortality and morbidity crises are hitting our country hard — and hitting Black communities and Indian Country the hardest,” said Senator Warren. “Our bill will ensure the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic centers pregnant people and confronts the systemic racism and discrimination in our health care system.”  

This maternal mortality and morbidity crisis is fueled by racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequities, comorbidities, inadequate access to the health care system, and structural racism — the same factors that have contributed to the substantial racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 outcomes.  

The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act would:  

  • Improve Data Collection, Research, and Surveillance Initiatives. The bill requires the CDC to coordinate, collect, and publicly post data related to COVID-19 and pregnancy disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and state. The bill also authorizes funding for CDC’s pregnancy surveillance programs and the National Institutes of Health’s research programs. 
  • Ensure the Inclusion of Pregnant People in Vaccine and Therapeutic Development for COVID-19. This bill directs the NIH to ensure that at least one COVID-19 vaccine is developed and made available for use in pregnancy and lactation. It adds reporting and data collection requirements for COVID-19 therapeutic and vaccine developers regarding their product’s use in pregnancy and lactation. And it emphasizes the inclusion of pregnant people, including those from underrepresented populations, in clinical trials when safe and appropriate. 
  • Improve Public Health Information and Communication for Pregnant People. The bill directs the CDC to undertake a robust public health education effort aimed at informing pregnant people, their employers, and their providers about the latest evidence-based health information. It also requires the Secretary of Labor to issue an emergency temporary standard for pregnant workers and all workers. 
  • Ensure Lasting Maternal Health Care and Birthing Experience Improvements. The bill defines anti-racist, culturally congruent, and respectful maternity care and seeks to improve the provision of this type of care. It creates a Task Force on Birthing Experience and Safe, Respectful Maternity Care to develop federal recommendations to ensure the provision of quality, nondiscriminatory maternity care and the improvement of maternal health outcomes during the COVID-19 public health emergency. It also mandates a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report after the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency to assess the delivery of maternal care during the pandemic and make recommendations for future pandemic preparedness and response related to maternal care. 

In the Senate, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Tina Smith (D-MI). In the House, the legislation is co-sponsored by Susan Wild (PA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-00), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), André Carson (IN-07), Bill Foster (IL-11), David Trone (MD-06), Al Lawson (FL-05), Lucy McBath (GA-06), G. K. Butterfield (NC-01), llhan Omar (MN-05), Judy Chu (CA-27), and Steve Cohen (TN-09). 

The legislation is endorsed by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, Black Mamas Matter Alliance, Center for American Progress, Center for Reproductive Rights, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda, Every Mother Counts, March of Dimes, March for Moms, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Birth Equity Collaborative, National Partnership for Women and Families, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine. 

“ACOG proudly endorses the Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act of 2020. We thank Senator Warren and Representative Underwood for prioritizing initiatives to improve maternal health at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic risks exacerbating our nation’s maternal mortality crisis and existing racial health inequities. This bill aims to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on pregnant women, with a focus on addressing the needs of communities of color, including by investing in important public health programs, ensuring that pregnant women are included in vaccine and therapeutic development for COVID-19, and bolstering culturally congruent maternity care. We applaud Senator Warren and Representative Underwood for making these very important societal issues a continued priority.” — Eva Chalas, MD, FACOG, FACS, President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)  

“The Center for Reproductive Rights commends Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Lauren Underwood on the introduction of the Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the underlying maternal health crisis in this country – a human rights failing that disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous birthing people. We are proud to endorse this legislation, which prioritizes access to safe and respectful maternal health care.” — Jennifer Jacoby, Federal Policy Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights 

“We commend Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Lauren Underwood for introducing the Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act, which will dedicate resources to combat the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the United States was facing a maternal mortality crisis that disproportionately impacted women of color. These disparities that pregnant and lactating women of color face are exacerbated by COVID-19. Data has shown that pregnant women are disproportionately impacted by the virus than nonpregnant women – impacting pregnant Latina and Black women at significantly higher rates than white women. It is imperative that the needs of pregnant and lactating women are not overlooked during COVID-19. We applaud the introduction of this bill that includes policies to better respond to the needs of pregnant and lactating women of color.” —  Ariel González, March of Dimes Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs 

“The United States currently has the highest documented number of COVID-19 cases in the world, but in the rush to understand the spread of COVID-19 and develop a vaccine, we cannot forget about the virus’ impact on pregnant people. Nor can we ignore the disparate impact the virus is having on Black and Brown communities due to decades of systemic racism and inequities. That’s why Sen. Warren and Rep. Underwood’s Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act is so important. This legislation would require that pregnant people are included in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, while creating new federal recommendations to ensure quality, nondiscriminatory maternity care for all. We thank Sen. Warren and Rep. Underwood for leading on this important bill, and for ensuring that pregnant people are not left behind in our COVID-19 response.” —  Jacqueline Ayers, Vice President of Government Relations & Public Policy, Planned Parenthood Federation of America 

“We cannot end the coronavirus pandemic if our response does not work for everyone. The Maternal Health Pandemic Response Act takes critical steps to ensure that a vaccine and treatment for the COVID-19 are safe and effective for pregnant and lactating people — including people of color — and that data are disaggregated to understand the impact of COVID-19 on maternal health. Even more, steps must be taken to ensure the coronavirus pandemic does not exacerbate the maternal health crisis that was already disproportionately affecting Black and Native American communities.”  — Jamille Fields Allsbrook, JD/MPH, Director of Women’s Health and Rights at the Center for American Progress