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Climate Crisis A Rising Threat to Maternal Health in the US

Evidence of Impact Mounts, Action is Needed

Farmworkers, considered essential workers under the current Covid-19 pandemic guidelines, work a strawberry field in Santa Paula, California, April 15, 2020.  © 2020 AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Mother’s Day in the United States is typically associated with spring, and new life.

But because of the climate crisis, Mother’s Day also heralds hotter summers with more and longer heat waves, worsening North Atlantic hurricane season, and terrifying wildfires in the months ahead. An increasingly important public health event – Heat Awareness Day – follows on May 31.

Climate impacts are expected to be more extreme again this year and threaten to worsen the maternal health crisis in the US. That crisis is marked by unjust inequities in maternal mortality, illness, and premature birth; with worse rates for Black, Indigenous, and other women of color than white women, and for women living in poverty compared to the better-off.

As a coalition of 54 organizations told US President Joe Biden, studies show exposure to extreme heat, hurricanes, and wildfire have detrimental impacts on maternal health, such as increased pregnancy hospitalizations and complications like dangerous maternal diabetes and premature birth.

It is encouraging to see that along with much more ambitious US promises to cut carbon emissions, we are seeing more public demand to have pregnant people and frontline maternal health workers included in plans to address climate crisis.

Along with others, two leading Black reproductive justice organizations, the National Birth Equity Collaborative, and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, are advocating for action. The Center for American Progress has issued similar demands. Indigenous and women’s rights organization the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) just published an in-depth report about fossil fuel extraction and climate change impacts on women’s health, including maternal health. The Miami Dade Women’s Fund plans to roll out billboards this month warning about pregnancy health and heat.

New collaborations are emerging between groups working on advocating against negative climate impacts and those promoting maternal health; for example between the March of Dimes and Moms Clean Air Force, as well as groups like A Better Balance campaigning for accommodations for pregnant workers facing dangerous heat.

Since US government agencies acknowledge that pregnant people are vulnerable to climate change, federal climate, and health programs should earmark funds for maternal health. Congress should better fund these programs and pass the “Protecting Moms and Babies Against Climate Change Act” and the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.” Heat awareness efforts this summer should include pregnant people.

There is much to be done before next Mother’s Day. 

See our poster for more information on why Heat Awareness is important now:

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