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Black Mamas Matter

Reproductive justice asserts that all people have the right to bodily autonomy, to have a child (or not have a child), to parent that child with dignity in safe and sustainable communities, and to determine their own reproductive and birthing experiences.” – Black Mamas Matter Alliance

This is not a “feel good” message.

As we approach Mothers Day, there is one more first for the United States that needs mention: The US has the most deaths resulting from pregnancy and pregnancy related complications of any nation in the developed world. 700 women die each year and that rate has increased in recent years, not declined. The US is the only developed nation where health care outcomes are declining.

There is little doubt that the lack of a comprehensive national health insurance program is one primary cause. Modern medicine knows how to prevent pregnancy related deaths, but only when modern medical care is available.

Cutbacks in Medicaid and the refusal to expand Medicaid by Republican led state governments bear responsibility for many of these deaths. Harsh work requirements to qualify for Medicaid will put even more women at risk, especially women of color. The truth is that efforts to limit availability of reproductive health care, almost a tsunami of them in other states this year, penalize some far more than others.

Within this national emergency, lies yet another example of the operation of both systemic racism and implicit bias. The culture of white supremacy relies on both.

First, the system. By limiting access to health care for poor Americans, women of color are disproportionately targeted. According to the CDC, Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die of pregnancy related causes than White women.

But even controlling for income, level of education and geographic location, the rates of pregnancy related illness and death are disproportionately high among Black and Brown women.

Narratives of personal responsibility for poor maternal health cannot explain these differences. There is bias built into our system. This includes new research from Harvard University that Whites believe that Blacks do not feel as much pain as they do. Black women are disbelieved when they report pain.

Serena Williams, who knew that she was in pain, had to fight to get the testing to prove that she had a blood clot that could have killed her. Serena Williams. This is not about income or education or accomplishment.

This is not a “feel good” message, but there are real signs of hope.

Senator Kamala Harris has introduced legislation (The CARE Act) to help reduce racial disparities in maternal health care. Reps Lauren Underwood(D-Ill) and Alma Adams(D-N.C.) have c reated a Black Maternal Health Caucus.

The Black Mamas Matter ( is providing leadership, as are other women of color organizations like SisterSong (Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective).

This is liberating work, removing the blinders of the long running “Right to Life”/”Right to Chose” debate so that we might finally look toward both equity and health in our health care policy decisions.


PS: I want to share two concerns I had in writing this blog. First was whether this was an appropriate message for the week when we celebrate Mothers Day. I clearly decided that telling these truths seemed appropriate. I also tried to signal that my message might be hard for some hear…early in the blog.

The second concern is more nuanced. As a man, should I simply steer clear of these issues, leave the field to women’s and Black women’s voices? How male-identified folks enter these conversations seems critical. My approach is to promote female voices and support the initiatives of female led organizations. When I have the ability to raise my voice on these issues, it would feel irresponsible for me to remain silent. I hope that white voices will not remain silent about issues impacting communities of color. BUT we all have to learn how to engage. AND, just to be clear, I have no doubt that I have more to learn about how to raise my voice across the divides of gender and gender-identity.
The Rev. Dr. William G. Sinkford, Senior Minister, was called to First Church in 2010. He is the principal spiritual leader of the church as well as having overall management responsibility for its operation.

Bill, as he prefers to be called, is well known for his service as President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (2001-2009). His tenure was marked by strong public witness for social justice and support for marginalized communities, commitments he continues here in Portland.

During his years of service to the denomination (“a seventeen year detour,” as he describes it), Bill never lost his goal of being a pastor to a congregation. “My service at First Church fulfills my calling to ministry. I am finally able to preach to congregants whose stories I know, whose children I’ve dedicated and whose elders I have memorialized.”

Bill was the first African American to lead any traditionally white denomination, and was named one of the ten most influential Black religious leaders in the US in both 2005 and 2006.
 He and his wife Maria have four adult children, and one grandchild, William Rider Sinkford, born in July 2008.

Visit Bill’s Blog here.

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