Council passes package of reproductive health legislation, expanding doula and midwifery services

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams
Photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

Building on their mission to counter the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade last month, the City Council Thursday passed a package of reproductive health and maternal mortality legislation following an abortion protections package they passed last month.

The seven bill and five resolution package includes legislation requiring the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to post its annual Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Report on its website and to provide doula services to low income communities across the five boroughs as well as direct the city to distribute educational information on doula and midwifery services.

All of the bills in the package passed by a 40-0 vote, except for Intro 490, sponsored by City Council Member Julie Menin (D-Manhattan), which would require DOHMH conduct research on reproductive and sexual health disparities across the city and provide reproductive health services. That bill passed by a 36-4 vote, with four Republicans giving it a thumbs down.

At a press conference before the bills passed during the council’s bi-weekly stated meeting, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the maternal mortality package is yet another legislative response by the council to the Supreme Court’s decision throwing out national abortion rights. But these bills are also needed to address the disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality faced by women of color.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams at stated meeting. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit.

“Black women face a maternal mortality crisis that is connected to our country’s history of racism and unequal access to services, rights and opportunities. The statistics and the experiences that far too many people have endured are striking and dire. In New York City, Black people are eight to twelve times more likely to die while giving birth than their white counterparts. They are also more likely to experience maternal morbidity,” Speaker Adams said.

“These disparities are horrifying and as a city we must take on the challenge in eliminating the inequities so that all women and birthing people are safe and protected,” she added.

In addition to Menin, City Council Members Farah Louis (D-Brooklyn), Crystal Hudson (D-Brooklyn), Jen Gutiérrez (D-Brooklyn) and Althea Stevens (D-Bronx) as well as Public Advocate Jumaane Williams all sponsored bills in the package.

This comes on the heels of the council passing the “NYC Abortion Rights Act” last month, which made abortion medications at city run clinics free for any patient and prevents city agencies from detaining those who perform the procedures.

Gutiérrez’s bill – Intro 472 – aims to require the health department to hire doulas, non-medical birthing assistants, and provide doula services to low income neighborhoods at no cost to residents, the speaker said. Doulas will be trained by the city in birth equity, trauma-informed care, navigating the hospital environment and services provided to low income families, she added.

City Council Member Jen Gutiérrez at stated meeting. Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. Photo courtesy of Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit.

Gutiérrez said it was the positive experience she had with a doula when she gave birth several months back that inspired her to sponsor this legislation.

“It was the privilege that I had of having a doula be there for me and advocating for me that really made me think about what we’re doing at a policy level to ensure that every mother and expecting person had a similar experience,” Gutiérrez said. “We know midwifery and doula care is ancestral, it is indigenous. It is a profession that is largely led and filled by women of color. And to be able to support this at City Hall with the first Black female speaker of the City Council is truly profound and historic.”

This legislation will build upon an expansion to the city’s doula and midwifery programs Mayor Eric Adams announced in March, Gutiérrez said, which provided doula services free-of-charge to 33 neighborhoods across the city his administration identified as having the greatest need. That pilot was scheduled to end in 2023, Gutiérrez added, but with this legislation it’ll be extended into the next year.