U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson Absent on Preventing Black Birth Disparities 

I have asked US House Representative Bennie Thompson for assistance in addressing the ongoing maternity crisis facing black mothers and babies in his district since 2018, but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Thompson has served as the Democratic Representative for Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district since 1993 and was the only Mississippi congressman to support it baby lawwho died in committee in 2019 and again in 2021.

“I am a proud co-sponsor of HR 5189, Birth Access Benefiting Improved Essential Facility Services (BABIES) Act. This legislation would create a demonstration payment under Medicaid,” Rep. Thompson said in an October 2020 email infant care would reimburse. By providing a cost-recovery model for freestanding birthing centers, we can continue to deploy cost-effective, creative solutions to improve maternal mortality and improve infant outcomes.”

However, he has refused to unilaterally allocate federal funds to build a birthing center in his district, which needs it most. From 1994 to 2020, about 23% of black women in the 2nd congressional district did not receive prenatal care in their first trimester according to the Mississippi State Department of Health data tool.

One photo shows Rep. Bennie Thompson, wearing a suit and tie, speaking into a microphone while looking at a glass teleprompter behind which hangs the red and white stripes of an American flag
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson is “the only Mississippi congressman to support the BABIES Act, who died in committee in 2019 and again in 2021,” writes Getty Israel, but says he doesn’t yet have support for black mothers in the 2nd Congress of Mississippi offered district. Photo by Grace Marion

Nearly 50,000 preterm births, over 26,000 preterm births (nonmedically indicated labor induction or cesarean section), more than 7,200 very low birth weight births, and 4,352 fetal deaths have occurred among residents since Thompson took office. Black women accounted for about 79% of preterm births, 66% of preterm births, 86% of very low birth weight babies, and about 85% of fetal deaths in his district.

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African American women are from all walks of life three to four times as likely to die from preventable pregnancy-related complications as non-Hispanic white women, while the mortality rate for black infants is twice that of infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers. Black babies in the US account for 40% of all births and 60% of deaths before their first birthday.

Solution: Build free-standing birth houses

Last year I opened a clinic sisters in childbirthto midwife black women in the 2nd Ward to fight against this growing inequality. Realizing that a clinic alone wasn’t enough, I decided to build a free-standing birth center that conforms to the midwifery model of care to provide options for low-risk pregnant women who want a non-medical delivery by a midwife, but not too wish home. Birthing centers operate independently of hospitals, and while birthing center providers are licensable, none were operating in Mississippi as of 2020.

Chart comparing the types of midwives currently practicing in Mississippi

There are three Types of midwifery practices in Mississippi: Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs or Nurse-Midwives), Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) and Direct Entry Midwives (or lay midwives). CNMs are registered nurses who receive licenses from the State Board of Nursing and are trained in midwifery with advanced practice degrees that enable them to deliver babies in Mississippi hospitals. In Mississippi, CPMs and lay midwives practice legally but are unregulated, and the number of practitioners operating in the state is unknown.

Before the 1950’s, black midwives safely delivered over 90% of black babies in Mississippi. However, as privatized medicine became more popular in the United States, The number of out-of-hospital births fell from almost 100% to 44% by 1940. Traditionally, midwifery was pursued as a female-dominated family occupation or as an apprenticeship, passing on knowledge from previous ancestors.

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Culturally, the presence of a man at childbirth was considered taboo. However, the predominantly white, male doctors did not want women involved at all in midwifery – the medical science that deals with pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. As black pregnant women entered the medical system, they began to experience terrible segregated care and inequalities.

It made sense to seek financial support from Thompson’s office, since Republicans were no obstacle. I submitted a proposal for that to Thompson’s office Budget funds for community projects in FY23 for which he could have selected 15 projects. Although the Hinds County public and legislature supported the birthing center project, Thompson did not. Instead, he chose to fund 14 typical projects. Over $2 million was awarded to museums, including a catfish museum, $3 million went to the Johnny Russell Law Enforcement Academy at Mississippi Delta Community College, $800,000 went to the revitalization of a government building in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, and $1.6 million flowed into a surveillance system at Coahoma Community College – just to name a few.

1994-2020 Lack of prenatal care
This data was collected using the Mississippi Department of Health’s Mississippi Statistically Automated Health Resource System data tool and includes the following counties: Adams, Attala, Bolivar, Carroll, Claiborne, Coahoma, Copiah, Grenada, Hinds, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jefferson, Leake, LeFlore , Montgomery, Panola, Quitman, Sharkey, Sunflower, Tallahatchie, Tunica, Warren, Washington, Yalobusha, Yazoo, and Madison.
Non-medically indicated preterm births refer to births performed by elective cesarean section or labor induction between 37 weeks, 0 days and 38 weeks, 6 days. This measure is a population-level estimate of preterm births, and the numbers are not as accurate as those calculated using medical record data. This measure is intended to be used only as an indicator and not as a validated measure of premature births of choice. Discrepancies between these reported numbers and numbers reported using other sources such as medical records or hospital discharge data are possible (MSDH). Graphic courtesy of Kristin Bremenen

All of these projects indirectly improve public life, but none of them prevent birth differences, which are the worst in the nation every year. These are the usual organizations funded by both parties. Representative Bennie Thompson ($19,264,100), Michael Gast ($40,490,000) and Trento Kelly ($20,543,631.81) awarded a total of $80.3 million for fiscal 2023.

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Registered with the Mississippi State Department of Health 3,559 forced layoffs in 2020 and about 5,000 additional pregnancies will likely be due to the need for care the state’s recent abortion bans. Therefore, state and federal legislators should support evidence-based alternatives to the existing broken healthcare system generates more than 2.2 million US dollars for caesarean operations alone.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid recommend Heads of state are exploring the accessibility of midwives and free-standing birth centers to improve birth outcomes and generate significant medical savings. His recommendation was based on findings from the Study Strong start for mothers and newborns funded by the Affordable Care Act, which involved 45,000 racially diverse Medicaid members, mostly living in the South.

Support for traditional institutions is important, but the decision to ignore the maternal health plight, particularly of black mothers and babies, shows poor leadership. Rep. Thompson needs to do more than just add his name to a birth center bill. He should put the money where his mouth is.

This essay by MFP Voices does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its employees, or any director. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and fact check information to [email protected] We welcome diverse perspectives.

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