July 23, 2020

Warren, Murray, Lawmakers Urge HHS to Address the Needs of Pregnant People during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Combat Maternal Mortality Crisis

"As of July 16, 2020, over 12,000 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19 and 35 pregnant women have died"; Early data show higher rates of COVID-19 infection and maternal morbidity among people of color

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and HELP Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), along with Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) urging the agency to strengthen its efforts to protect pregnant people during the COVID-19 pandemic and expressing concern over reports that the political needs of the President were being prioritized over the public health needs of vulnerable populations.

"We understand the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have tested and strained our public health system. But in responding to these numerous and pressing challenges, the federal government cannot lose sight of its obligation to safeguard the health of our most vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including pregnant individuals," the lawmakers wrote. "A federal COVID-19 pandemic response without concerted attention to maternal health will only exacerbate the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis plaguing our nation."

The senators encouraged HHS to focus especially on racial and ethnic disparities, which are driving both COVID-19 outcomes and maternal health outcomes in the United States. In particular, Black and Indigenous women in the United States are much more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, and women of color suffer disproportionately high rates of maternal morbidity. Early data also show significantly higher rates of infection and death from COVID-19 among communities of color. According to the latest COVID-19 information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are more likely to be hospitalized and are at higher risk for intensive care unit admissions than nonpregnant women. The CDC also found that Hispanic and Black pregnant women were disproportionately infected by COVID-19. As of July 16, 2020, over 12,000 pregnant women have tested positive for COVID-19 and 35 pregnant people have died

The senators also raised concerns about reports of the Trump Administration sidelining scientists and public health experts, including a recent report that senior officials at HHS accused the CDC of "undermining the President" when it released the latest information on pregnant women. This "represents a dangerous public health policy process at the Department, in which the President's bad moods and political needs are prioritized over the needs of the people of this country, and especially pregnant people and other vulnerable populations," wrote the lawmakers.

"It is only with concerted effort--and prioritizing public health over politics--that we will be able to successfully navigate the concurrent public health emergencies of COVID-19 and maternal mortality," the senators concluded.

The senators urged HHS to improve data collection and public health communication, expand surveillance efforts, ensure the proper inclusion of pregnant people in COVID-19 clinical trials, and address racial disparities in health care outcomes. They requested a response no later than July 31, 2020 to better understand how HHS is addressing this issue and how Congress can support broader efforts to respond to the public health emergency on behalf of pregnant people and their families. 

Senator Warren is dedicated to advocating for the health and safety of pregnant people. In 2019, Senator Warren sent a letter to HHS and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requesting information on the agencies' efforts to address maternal mortality and implement alternative payment models. Recently in March 2020, Senators Warren and Murray urged the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to consider the needs of pregnant people and other underrepresented populations as they work with pharmaceutical companies to develop a pipeline for COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.