Get ready for some good news! This week, federal lawmakers launched a renewed battle against an issue that silently devastates over 20,000 families in the U.S. each year – stillbirths. They reintroduced the Maternal and Child Health Stillbirth Prevention Act, a game-changing piece of legislation aimed at bringing this number drastically down.
This Act isn’t just a handful of legal jargon. It promises to allocate federal funds, originally intended for mother and child health, towards initiatives fighting the stillbirth crisis. Think of initiatives that empower expectant parents to track their baby’s movements in the womb, helping spot potential issues early on.
We’ve all heard about infant mortality and SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But what about stillbirths, the loss of a pregnancy after 20 weeks? In spite of research suggesting up to one-fourth of stillbirths could be preventable, there has been a stark lack of comprehensive action, research, and awareness in the U.S. Racial disparities add another layer to this crisis. Meanwhile, other wealthy nations have managed to decrease their stillbirth rates.
In the words of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), “Stillbirth upends the lives of individuals and families from all demographics across the United States.” And he’s right. Merkley and a cohort of lawmakers across the aisle reintroduced the Act this week, bringing the stillbirth crisis front and center in Congress.
It’s a commendable move, especially considering a similar bill never got to see the voting floor last year. This time, lawmakers hope to make it crystal clear to public health officials that the funds under Title V Maternal and Child Health block grants can indeed be used for stillbirth reduction initiatives.
Now, this doesn’t mean there’s extra money on the table. But, by allowing the existing funds to be used in this way, advocates believe we can begin making real progress toward reducing the number of stillbirths.
Emily Price, CEO of the Iowa-based nonprofit Healthy Birth Day, is confident about the bill’s passage. She champions the Count the Kicks app that assists pregnant individuals to track their baby’s movements, an initiative this legislation could greatly boost. In her words, “This legislation means lives saved.” Talk about a cause worth fighting for!
The National Institutes of Health, among others, recognizes the U.S. stillbirth rate as “unacceptably high.” The legislation hopes to tackle the issue through a combination of increased awareness about fetal movement, encouraging safe sleeping positions during pregnancy, and improved screening for babies who might not be growing as expected.
Prominent organizations, like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the March of Dimes, have endorsed the legislation. They see this Act as a critical step forward, helping to develop appropriate tests and interventions, and shedding light on the racial and ethnic inequities in stillbirth rates.
To put it into perspective, Black women are more than twice as likely – and in some states about three times as likely – as white women to have a stillbirth. They also face nearly three times the risk of dying during or soon after childbirth. The legislation aims to address these discrepancies head-on.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams (D-N.C.), a co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus, summed it up best when she said, “The solutions exist, we just need the political will.” It’s time we put our collective foot down and say: enough is enough. Our mothers and our future generations deserve better. Here’s to making that change, one legislative step at a time.