A group of North Carolina legislators filed their own “Momnibus” act this month, a collection of state-level bills meant to address Black maternal health and the factors that contribute to disparities in health care, particularly for women of color.
The act was inspired by the federal Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, introduced in Congress earlier this year.
This week is Black Maternal Health Week nationwide. Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues compared with white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of the states with the highest maternal mortality rates are in the South.
One of the state legislators sponsoring North Carolina’s Momnibus is state Sen. Natalie Murdock of Durham, who became the first Black woman under age 40 to serve in the North Carolina Senate when she was sworn in last year.
Murdock spoke with Reckon recently about the Momnibus legislation she’s sponsoring with Rep. Julie Von Haefen of Wake County, N.C., which they hope will reduce North Carolina’s maternal mortality rate and improve the care that mothers, and particularly Black mothers, receive.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why is it important to you for North Carolina to have its own Momnibus Act?
Murdock: We need comprehensive awareness and oversight and support for Black maternal health issues.
I campaigned saying I wanted to do something around Black maternal health. I haven’t had the pleasure of having a child yet, but I can connect with so many of my friends, that we’re all worried whenever that time comes, about how we’ll be treated and, frankly, whether we’ll make it out of the hospital alive. We experience anxiety already over something we haven’t even gone through. I have many other friends who’ve had high-risk pregnancies, preeclampsia, blood clots that went undetected, and friends who had their concerns ignored.
I was also personally impacted by a state representative in Tennessee, Rep. London Lamar, who is also a champion for Black maternal health. That encouraged me to do this work at the state level here. As legislators, particularly when you represent a demographic that’s underrepresented, you have a duty to shed light on issues that wouldn’t rise to a level of a bill being filed if we weren’t in these seats.
What has the support been like among your colleagues in the North Carolina General Assembly?
Behind the scenes we’ve been having great conversations. It’s been a mixture, but with some of these items we’re hopeful we’ll get bipartisan support.
Every now and again, we have the ability to be bipartisan and work together, and we want to do that with this legislature. We’re hopeful these policies will be able to move forward, even if separately.
What advice would you give to anyone passionate about advocating for improving Black maternal health?
Never assume your advocacy doesn’t matter. In Southern states, where we’re in the minority, folks get frustrated and think their voices won’t be listened to. There are times when no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, if 40 or 50 people reach out to a legislator who represents them, they will get a response.
Reach out early and often (to lawmakers) around health and reproductive justice issues. Say, ‘We want outcomes for mothers to improve, and what are you doing about it?’ Encourage your state leaders to follow that national Momnibus model and tell them, ‘We want to see something like this.’ Reaching out includes emails, phone calls, and as COVID numbers come down, physically going to your own (state legislature). It’s your house, and you have every right to be there and advocate for what you believe in.