As Kentucky’s Only Black Woman in the Legislature, I Have a Plan to Address Racial Maternal Health Inequities
The following op-ed is written by State Rep. Attica Scott (D-Louisville)
As the only Black woman member of Kentucky’s state legislature and single mother of two, I know the importance of representing all of my constituents and leaving no one behind. Far too often in Frankfort, bills are passed and signed into law that will actually harm children who look like mine, hurt moms like me who know what it’s like to live paycheck-to-paycheck or no check-to-no check, or harm people of color who are ignored and left behind—if not left out altogether.
In my role, I bring with me experiences that many of my peers in the legislature don’t, which drive my work as a public servant, advocate, and leader in my community.
That’s why I am committed to addressing the deep racial disparities in maternal and infant health in my home state and promoting sexual, reproductive, and maternal health for Black women and girls, who face the greatest barriers to health care in Kentucky.
The United States currently has the highest maternal death rates in the industrialized world. Maternal death rates in the U.S. and Kentucky are significantly higher for Black women, who are four times more likely to die from pregnancy and birth-related causes than white women. That’s why I have introduced House Bill 138, the Maternal CARE Act, to address racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality rates. The bill will require that we track maternal deaths, provide Medicare reimbursement for qualified doula care, and mandate implicit bias training for perinatal medical professionals.
Predictably enough, in Kentucky’s predominantly white, male, conservative legislature, self-identified “pro-life” lawmakers who claim to care about mothers and families have introduced even more dangerous, restrictive abortion laws this legislative session. Anti-abortion lawmakers’ efforts to restrict reproductive health access have been proven to worsen pregnancy and maternal health outcomes, especially for women of color and those struggling financially. In contrast, my bill offers my colleagues the opportunity to finally put their money where their mouths are and support mothers and families in a meaningful way.
Racialized maternal mortality disparities persist across socioeconomic lines, indicating that implicit bias from medical professionals may play a role in shaping the care Black pregnant women and new mothers receive. Requiring implicit bias training for prenatal medical professionals is a key step to promote all patients’ safety and bodily autonomy. Additionally, care from doulas, who offer advocacy and individualized, culturally specific education to pregnant women, can be life-saving and vital to promoting healthy pregnancies and births, especially for women of color.
Racial disparities in pregnancy and maternal health outcomes are a national crisis in the United States, but are especially concerning in Kentucky, where half of all counties are rural. Rural parts of the country are often severely lacking in life-saving access to sexual and reproductive health care, leading to worsened pregnancy and maternal health outcomes. Research has shown that states and regions in the U.S. where abortion care is more restricted and inaccessible have disproportionately high maternal mortality rates.
As the first Black woman elected to serve in our legislature in nearly 20 years, I see it as my role to be a champion for women in my family, for generations of women like me who have always been excluded and punished. Sadly, Black women are only mentioned on the House floor out of political convenience—not out of deep relationships that have been built with lots of different women like us.
Being a champion for my community means ensuring that we finally pay attention to the disparate experiences of Black women in my state, and offering them support.
From improving sexual health education in Kentucky’s schools, to expanding access to basic child care products, to addressing maternal health disparities, my goal as a lawmaker is to draw on my lived experiences and leave no one in my community behind. But I can’t do it alone. I know that supporting our communities requires all of us across Kentucky to rise up, and organize for legislative change to support reproductive health equity and racial justice.
An agenda of health and wellness for pregnant folks who choose to have a baby, mothers, and families across Kentucky should not be driven by politics. Those who share my belief that all Kentuckians should be able to live safe, healthy and autonomous lives must make their voices heard and call on their representatives to join me. You can find out who your State Representative is by visiting www.legislature.ky.gov or by calling (800) 372-7181.
State Representative Attica Scott serves Kentucky House District 41