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In California, where new Black moms are far more likely to die, a law aims to reduce that racial disparity

The state will give lower-income women health insurance for up to one year after pregnancy instead of for two months and take other steps to cut the number of deaths.

Mashariki Kudumu, maternal and infant health director for the March of Dimes in Los Angeles.
Mashariki Kudumu, maternal and infant health director for the March of Dimes in Los Angeles: “We hope California today is an example for states across the nation to take up similar legislation because, literally, lives depend on it.”
Richard Vogel / AP

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Black women in California are more likely to die within a year of pregnancy than women of other races, prompting a wave of policy changes in the nation’s most populous state that has culminated with Gov. Gavin Newsom signing a new law aimed at reducing the disparity.

The law, among other things, creates a new committee within the state’s Department of Public Health to review maternal deaths throughout California by interviewing family members and doctors as well as exploring records and other reports.

The law is the the final piece of what’s been dubbed the “Momnibus” bill — a reference to the legislative term “omnibus” that generally means one bill combining multiple pieces of legislation on a number of topics.

Most of the “Momnibus” changes this year happened in the state budget, which Newsom signed into law over the summer.

California now will give lower-income women health insurance for up to one year after pregnancy instead of for two months. The state’s Medicaid program, a government-funded health insurance plan for the poor, will also now pay for doulas — trained professionals who support mothers before, during and after childbirth.

And the state is spending $35 million to help pay for programs that give low-income pregnant women monthly cash payments with no restrictions on how they can spend it.

“We’ve been focused on this issue for three years that I’ve had the privilege of being governor,” Newsom said. “But this year I feel like we’ve done something that will break through.”

Advocates hope California’s changes will help jumpstart a national movement. Illinois enacted similar changes earlier this year. A federal “Momnibus” bill is pending before Congress.

“We hope California today is an example for states across the nation to take up similar legislation because, literally, lives depend on it,” said Mashariki Kudumu, director of maternal and infant health initiatives for the March of Dimes, Greater Los Angeles.

Black women were six times more likely to die within a year of pregnancy than white women from 2014 to 2016 and had a higher rate of death than Black women nationally from 2014 to 2017, the most recent time frame for which figures are available.