Published February 2, 2024

The statistics are more than sobering—they are alarming. Black women are three-and-a-half times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. The threat to Black women’s maternal health can’t be explained by differences in wealth, education, or other factors. It comes down to implicit bias. 

Sarah McConnell, host of our With Good Reason radio show, talked to Dr. Rochanda Mitchell, a maternal-fetal medicine fellow at the UVA Health System, about racial disparities in medicine for an episode called “Giving Birth While Black.” Dr. Mitchell advocates for hiring more African American nurse educators and providing anti-bias training for medical professionals. 

Chris Head, a Republican member of the General Assembly representing Virginia’s 17th district, heard the episode. It moved him to reach across the aisle and join Delegate Delores McQuinn, a Democrat representing the 70th district, as a co-sponsor of a bill (HB 1105) requiring anti-bias training for all medical professionals in Virginia who work with pregnant persons. It was an example of bipartisan collaboration that we seem to be seeing less and less of. 

Del. Delores McQuinn, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 70th district
Del. Chris Head, a Republican member of the General Assembly representing the 17th district

“I think a lot of people were surprised,” Head shared. “People saw that Delores and I were working together on this issue and would ask me what it was all about. It provided an opportunity to have a conversation with people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to this issue.” 

Delegate McQuinn, who was introduced to the issue by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, said she proposed the legislation to help address the history of racial health disparities.  

“I felt it was essential to introduce HB 1105 during the 2022 General Assembly due to the history of racial inequities in maternity and infant health outcomes for African Americans,” she explained. “By requiring implicit bias and competence training, doctors would be better equipped to deliver patient-centered care and would be able to overcome a significant barrier to high-quality maternity care.”

A companion bill was introduced in the Virginia Senate by Senator Mamie Locke. Unfortunately, the proposed bill did not become law. But Head said that doesn’t mean the effort failed.  

“Because of the conversations this started, the Virginia Department of Health Professions is looking at the issue for the first time and, thanks to the Medical Society of Virginia, every medical school in Virginia now includes anti-bias training in their programs,” he said. 

Delegate Delores McQuinn represents Virginia’s 70th District in Henrico County, Chesterfield County, and Richmond City.

Chris Head represents Virginia’s 17th District serving parts of Roanoke County, Botetourt County, and Roanoke City and is a member of Virginia Humanities’ board of directors.

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Vanessa Adkins, right, is apprenticing under her cousin Jessica Canaday Stewart learning the finer points of traditional Chickahominy dancing. Photos taken at the Fall Festival and Pow Wow in Charles City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

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