US Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) introduced the Kira Johnson Act, which would provide funding to community-based organizations leading the charge to improve maternal health outcomes, particularly for Black women.
An alarming new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found maternal mortality in the US doubled between 1999 and 2019, with most deaths among Black women. This legislation creates a five-year, $50 million grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services to improve outcomes and reduce bias, racism and discrimination in maternal care settings. The Kira Johnson Act is included in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2023, a comprehensive package to end racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.
“Black women are dying at alarming rates due to disparities in our health care system,” said Sen. Padilla. “I’m proud to lead this critical legislation with Sen. Warnock that honors the life of Kira Johnson by investing in our local communities to address systematic disparities and racial bias in our health care system. We cannot ignore this public health crisis any longer.”
“The rate of maternal mortality is an ongoing and worsening crisis,” said Sen. Reverend Warnock. “Black women are particularly at risk in the state of Georgia, where they are three to four more likely to die related to childbirth or pregnancy than their white sisters. I’m proud to partner with Sen. Padilla on this life-saving legislation. We can’t get this done soon enough.”
“The Kira Johnson Act legislation is of paramount importance in our pursuit of justice and equity within our healthcare system,” said Charles Johnson, husband of the late Kira Johnson. “This legislation serves as a critical step towards rectifying the systemic failures that have long plagued our healthcare system, particularly when it comes to maternal care. No family should ever have to endure the tragic loss we experienced, nor should any woman face unnecessary risks and complications during what should be one of the most joyous moments of her life. We are grateful to Sen. Warnock for fighting to ensure that every mother receives the safe dignified birthing experience they deserve.”
The Kira Johnson Act will:
— Provide funding to community-based organizations to improve maternal health outcomes for Black pregnant and postpartum people and women of color, as well as birthing people from other underserved communities.
— Provide funding for grant programs to implement and study consistent bias, racism and discrimination trainings for all employees in maternity care settings.
— Provide funding to establish Respectful Maternity Care Compliance Programs within hospitals to provide mechanisms for pregnant and postpartum patients to report instances of disrespect or evidence of racial, ethnic or other types of bias and promote accountability.