Committee supports Sen. Carney bill to address racial disparities in prenatal care
AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted in favor of a bill from Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, to help address racial disparities in prenatal care among Maine mothers. LD 1113, “Resolve, To Direct the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations To Study and Propose Solutions to Disparities in Access to Prenatal Care in the State,” received a vote of 7-2.
“Access to early, quality prenatal care is absolutely vital to a healthy pregnancy and safe birth. Unfortunately in Maine, not all expecting mothers receive the same level of care, and their health outcomes reflect this,” said Sen. Carney. “Any racial disparity is cause for concern. When we identify a disparity that is costing lives, we need to do all we can to figure out why that disparity exists and address it. I’m grateful to the committee for their support of this measure.”
LD 1113 would direct the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations to study disparities in access to prenatal care in the state. As amended, the bill would authorize the commission to submit a report to the Health and Human Services Committee, which would then offer legislation that helps create equity in access to prenatal care in Maine.
Maine has a significant racial disparity in access to prenatal care. Data from 2019 shows that in Maine, 90% of all women started prenatal care in the first trimester, although less than 75% of Black women had prenatal care in the first trimester. In Maine, only 4% of all women had no prenatal care until the third trimester, while 12% of Black women in Maine had no prenatal care until the third trimester. This is worse than the national rate of 10% and is tied with Texas as the worst rate in the country.
“In order to start dismantling some of these long-standing inequities, we must better understand what leads to lack of, or late initiation into, prenatal care for Maine’s Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities,” said Darcy Shargo, CEO of the Maine Primary Care Association, in testimony supporting the bill. “Early access to prenatal care is a key area of focus and interest for all of Maine’s 20 community health centers, which are spread as far north as Fort Kent and as far south as Springvale. As part of a mandatory reporting requirement, these health centers track whether patients initiate prenatal care in their first trimester of pregnancy. Much research underscores that when women receive good prenatal care during their first trimester, it is a good indication of overall future health for mothers, their children, and their families alike.”
“We don’t need a special commission to tell us that we have a problem with asymmetric access to prenatal care and outcomes,” said Destie Hohman Sprague, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, in testimony supporting the bill. “We do need to provide the person power and commitment of a Maine-based commission to provide the dedicated focus that will help us understand where our systems are working, and where they can be improved. We believe this bill will help to make that happen.”
The bill faces votes before the Senate and House.