In a Jan. 4, 2019, file photo, then-Colorado state Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, greets former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb before the start of the first day of the 2019 legislative session. Buckner became a state senator in 2021. (Photo By Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Last week was national Black Maternal Health Week, during which one of the three bills in the Colorado legislature that are part of the Birth Equity Bill Package passed its first hearing.

When we passed legislation that created the Maternal Mortality Review Committee in 2019, we knew this was a national call to action to prevent maternal deaths in states across the U.S. Since then, we have been able to highlight concrete data on the need for more robust mental and behavioral health support for families in the postpartum period, and the shocking statistics on suicide as the leading cause of death for those who gave birth in Colorado. 

Colorado state Sen. Janet Buckner

However, there are limits as to what and how we ask about death, and there are limits to what we can learn about the lived experience from those that have died. It is often impossible to get the full picture, or to understand how much earlier in the process intervention or preventative care would have supported those individuals that we have lost. 

Following a summer of uproar and protest while racism and white supremacy were on full display, we are faced with the reality that in every sector we need to dig deeper into data on how racism (implicit/explicit and systematic) impedes quality care. 

It is time that we evolve the Maternal Mortality Review Committee and take the next step. From the report by the committee, published in July 2020, we have learned that the top causes of maternal mortality in Colorado have been suicide, homicide, drug overdose, sepsis/infection, injury, cerebrovascular accidents, cardiac conditions, thrombotic pulmonary embolism, and other obstetric complications. 

In light of Black Maternal Health Week being recognized in a proclamation by President Biden last Tuesday, it is a pertinent time to operationalize our commitment to health inequities faced by the Black community. 

While the Maternal Mortality Review Committee is charged with defining the physiological reason for death, it still falls short in recognizing and defining how racism contributes to the large number of suicides in the postpartum period, especially since we know that Black women often receive less treatment for conditions like postpartum depression.  

We are missing an opportunity to dig deeper in our data, and address racial inequities that we know exist across the country but also in Colorado.

 Black women are dying faster and at higher rates than white women during the perinatal period, and Native American women during that period are dying at higher rates in Colorado than any other racial or ethnic group. In fact, birthing parents of Native American descent were reported as 4.8 times more likely to die compared to their non-native peers who gave birth in Colorado. 

This problem requires bold solutions. Legislation like the federal Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 creates a bold action blueprint for us to strive to achieve optimal birth outcomes for all birthing families. We must uniquely address inequities in all populations that experience them. The Momnibus Act does this for our incarcerated pregnant individuals, our veteran moms, and our Native American and Indigenous birthing parents. 

But, we have yet to set up an infrastructure that addresses disparities and inequities in the perinatal time period in Colorado. Specifically, it’s time that we address the many different types of inequities that impede good care for communities of color. 

We know that one out of three individuals of color experience one or more types of mistreatment and discrimination during their perinatal care, and those numbers are often higher for people of color receiving care in hospital settings. 

We know that mistreatment and discrimination can increase stress on the person receiving care and can impede other aspects of their life, not to mention the lives of their children. 

This legislative session, we have the incredible opportunity to pass a bill package that truly is Colorado’s version of the federal Momnibus. 

While the federal package has 12 bills, Colorado has a robust three bills: Senate Bill 101, titled Sunset Direct-entry Midwives; Senate Bill 193, Portion of Pregnant People in Perinatal Period; and Senate Bill 194, Maternal Health Providers. 

This package of bills paves the way to undoing inequities for our families experiencing the highest rates of mistreatment and infant and maternal mortality, and uplifts solutions that are driven by communities most impacted. 

As someone who has championed maternal health in Colorado, I know how challenging but important these issues are. I hope that my colleagues at the Colorado General Assembly can join me in voting yes on these three bills, so that we can turn the tide on inequity in birth outcomes and make Colorado a great place to start a family. 

Janet Buckner, Democrat of Aurora, represents District 28 in the Colorado Senate and previously served in the state House of Representatives.

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Special to The Colorado Sun Email: Twitter: @SenJanetBuckner