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Tipsheet

Top NY Health Official Refers to White Women as 'Birthing People,' Black and Puerto Rican Women as 'Mothers'

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A top New York City health official made a social media post in which she called white women "birthing people" while referring to their black and Puerto Rican counterparts as "mothers."

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Michelle Morse, the chief medical officer at the New York City Department of Health, posted a Twitter thread on March 23 outlining New York's "birth equity" initiative to expand the "citywide doula program and midwifery."

In the thread, Morse explained that too many New York City families experience "life-threatening complications from childbirth, and even loss of life of the birthing person or their child," adding that "We must hold ourselves and health care delivery organizations accountable to our anti-racism mission and make health equity a realty."

"For too long, barriers stood between doulas and the families who would benefit most from their support," she continued. "We need to support birthing people through all aspects of their birthing experience – perhaps the most beautiful and personal gift we can share with birthing people as they navigate the groundbreaking life changing experience of creating life. That is what doulas do."

But the tweet that drew the backlash was the post that contained a difference in the label for white women compared to women of color.

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The health department later apologized for "inadvertently gendering Black and Puerto Rican birthing people."

Morse, who also serves as the health department's deputy commissioner for the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness, has previously advocated for a "proactively antiracist agenda for medicine" in a 2021 article she coauthored with Bram Wispelwey, a former colleague at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. 

The article, titled "An Antiracist Agenda for Medicine," has been criticized as being similar to a critical race theory-style model for medical care. The two doctors wrote that the Boston hospital's black and Latino heart failure patients should be prioritized when considering admission to a specialty cardiac unit after the aforementioned patients had previously been more likely to be admitted to a general ward.

"Sensitive to these injustices, we have taken redress in our particular initiative to mean providing precisely what was denied for at least a decade: a preferential admission option for Black and Latinx heart failure patients to our specialty cardiology service," the article reads. "The Healing [acknowledgment, redress, and closure] will include a flag in our electronic medical record and admissions system suggesting that providers admit Black and Latinx heart failure patients to cardiology, rather than rely on provider discretion or patient self-advocacy to determine whether they should go to cardiology or general medicine." 

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"We will be analyzing the approach closely for the first year to see how well it works in generating equitable admissions. If it does, there will be good reason to continue the practice as a proven implementation measure to achieve equity." it continues. 

The doctors go on to claim that offering race-based preferential care may "elicit legal challenges from our system of colorblind law" but "given the ample current evidence that our health, judicial, and other systems already unfairly preference people who are white, we believe ... that our approach is corrective and therefore mandated."

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