Over two dozen people joined Rhode Island Representative Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) on Sunday morning near the Temple to Music in Roger Williams Park to kick off Black Maternal Health Week.
“We can celebrate,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell, “but we can also ask government to be accountable because Black women, right now in this country, are dying at disproportionate rates.”
The Center for Disease Control has data that shows American Indian/Alaska Native and Black women are two to three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.
“No woman should die just trying to have a baby,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell. “We need to do a much better job, as a country, to protect women, and especially poor women. That is why on Tuesday we will introduce, in the House of Representatives, a resolution to celebrate, but also to ask our government and our state to protect Black women, and brown women, and indigenous women and also poor white women. No one should be left out of our beloved community.”
On Wednesday the House Finance Committee will be taking up Representative Ranglin-Vassell’s bill, H5929, to require health insurers to cover the cost of doula services for expectant mothers. Doulas have been shown to improve health outcomes for both mothers and their babies. (You can sign up to testify on the bill, or send in written testimony, by following the instructions at the end of the committee agenda, here.)
“Doing doula work,” said Shay Costa, with the Umoja Nia Doula Collective, “is really doing what we can with what we have and we’re not able to serve everyone we really, truly, deeply do want to serve.”
Costa is a postpartum doula, who used to work in group sessions before the pandemic. That vital work has stopped now. “I have to work 9 to 5 to support my children, and I haven’t been able to provide doula work at one of the most critical times of the pandemic because there is no insurance reimbursement to support me supporting my community.”
“This doula bill is about reproductive justice, it’s about racial justice, and it’s about economic justice,” said Representative Ranglin-Vassell. “We cannot mess this up, especially in this moment, where Black women saved democracy. In this moment, when Black women gave us two Senate seats in Georgia when a racist President wanted to crash and steal the democracy.
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“So Rhode Island General Assembly, if we want to say ‘Thank you, Black women,’ we need to pass the doula bill.”
Representative Ranglin-Vassell was joined on her walk by Representatives Brendan Potter (Democrat, District 16, Cranston), Katherine Kazarian (Democrat, District 63, East Providence), Liana Cassar (Democrat, District 66, Barrington, East Providence), Rebecca Kislak (Democrat, District 4, Providence), Jose Batista (Democrat, District 12, Providence), and David Morales (Democrat, District 7, Providence), as well as Ward 3 Providence City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune (not pictured).