Sen. Carney introduces bill to address racial disparity in prenatal care

Posted: April 07, 2021 | Health and Human Services, Senator Carney

AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, introduced a bill to help address racial disparity in prenatal care among Maine women. 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,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

Sen. Anne Carney

“Maine has been working to improve both infant and maternal mortality, but we must do more. The Perinatal System of Care Workgroup published an excellent study in January 2020, that looked at causes of infant mortality in Maine and proposed improvements in perinatal care to reduce infant mortality. The study noted that, for the period 2014 – 2017, the infant mortality rate among children of Black and African American women in Maine was 1.4 times higher than the rate for children of white women in Maine,” said Sen. Carney. “This bill would help Maine address the causes of this disparity and save lives.”

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. It would authorize the commission to submit legislation that serves to create equity in access to prenatal care in the State to the Second Regular Session of the 130th Legislature and allow the members of the commission to be reimbursed for their expenses incurred in this work.

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 further action in committee.