By Paula Thornton Greear
The decision to become a mother is one of the most significant and life-changing decisions one can make.
As a mother of two and the leader of one of Michigan’s largest reproductive health organizations, I strongly believe that everyone deserves the right to decide when, whether and how to grow their family. And if they do decide to embark on the great journey that is motherhood, they should have access to the health care and resources they need to care for themselves and raise healthy, thriving families.
But for Black women in America, that vision is still not reality. Our health care institutions and public policy leaders have repeatedly failed Black mothers, resulting in a Black maternal mortality rate that is three times higher than their white counterparts and an infant mortality rate that is twice as high.
These deaths are not mere statistics. They represent thousands of grieving families who have lost a mother, a child, or both. It is unacceptable and unconscionable. Black mamas – and the people who love us – deserve better.
That’s why I’ve joined with the Black Mamas Matter Alliance to call on leaders in Michigan, and across the nation, to address the Black maternal health crisis and restore autonomy and joy in Black motherhood.
Black mothers are the backbone of our communities. We are leaders, connectors, caretakers, and visionaries. At the bare minimum, we deserve access to respectful, competent health care.
But we’re done settling for the bare minimum. Black mothers deserve to live freely, safely and joyfully. We deserve to enter motherhood on our own terms, supported by our communities, if and when we’re ready. Our bodies belong to us, and it is time for us to reclaim our autonomy and joy.
To accomplish this, we must dismantle systems of oppression and ensure Black women can access the high-quality, culturally competent health care they deserve.
This means investing in programs and policies that prioritize Black maternal health, recruiting and supporting Black medical professionals, increasing access to community-based doulas and midwives, supporting families before and after birth, and confronting the systemic racism that has been entrenched in American reproductive health care since its founding.
It also means standing up to politicians who seek to control our bodies and block us from accessing safe, legal abortion. We know that Black women face the most devastating consequences of abortion restrictions. We cannot hope to address the Black maternal health crisis without putting Black women back in control of their own health care decisions.
Here in Michigan, voters turned out in record numbers to pass Proposal 3 and restore reproductive freedom in Michigan. But there is still work to be done.
After decades of anti-abortion control of the state Legislature, our law books are riddled with medically unnecessary restrictions that put reproductive health care out of reach for Black women, communities of color, people with low incomes, young people, and people in remote, rural and medically under-served communities.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan (PPMI) will continue fighting to break down barriers to care and stand with Black women as they determine the course of their own lives. We are committed to providing culturally-competent care, addressing racial bias, and ensuring PPMI health center staff reflect and understand the communities they serve.
And we are proud to follow the leadership of reproductive justice organizations like Mothering Justice, Michigan Voices and the YWCA. By working together, we can address the Black maternal health crisis and create a world where Black mothers can live freely, safely and joyfully.
When Black mamas thrive, we all thrive.
Paula Thornton Greear (she/her) is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan. She wrote this piece for the Michigan Advance, a sibling site of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where it first appeared.
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