TRENTON, NJ — Maternal health reports and statistics unveiled in recent years paint a distressing picture of African American women’s health, not only throughout the U.S. but in New Jersey particularly.

New Jersey ranks 47th among the states in maternal mortality, with a rate of 37.3 deaths per every 100,000 live births.  Women of color account for nearly 60 percent of all pregnancy-related maternal deaths in the State. African American women are over four times more likely to lose their lives from pregnancy-related complications than their counterparts.

To bring attention to the issue of African American and Caucasian disparities in the State’s maternal mortality rates, and help ensure policymakers better understand the causes for these disparities, Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter and fellow Democrats Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and Gordon Johnson sponsored legislation signed into law by the Governor on Tuesday.

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The legislation (A-5029), now law, requires the New Jersey Office of Minority and Multicultural Health to study the effects of racial and ethnic disparities on the sexual and reproductive health of African-American women.

“The mortality numbers are shameful to say the least. More black women do not survive pregnancy and have complications than any other group of women in the State and around the country,” Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic).  “It is very clear there is a serious problem that exists and we must find out why. To effectively help women, we need answers.”

“I'm sure there is more we can do to help improve the numbers,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “More information on what may be causing these disparities is required to save lives and strengthen maternal health for women.”

“Every population has its own set of health risks and until we know fully the health concerns driving disparate outcomes for African-American women, we can only provide overall guidelines for maternal healthcare,” said Johnson (D-Bergen). “A study will provide the research lawmakers need take action and fight for women and their families.”

The purpose of the study will be to:

  1. Identify Statewide and regional trends, patterns, and racial and ethnic disparities in adverse health outcomes, and medical, non-medical, and system-related factors that may affect the sexual and reproductive health of African-American women; 
  2. Review the extent to which the effects of racial and ethnic disparities on the sexual and reproductive health of African-American women in a geographic area indicate the need to increase access to health care services among racial and ethnic populations in that area; and
  3. Identify ways to reduce or eliminate racial and ethnic disparities that affect the sexual and reproductive health of African-American women.

The law takes effect immediately.