By Cleve Bryan


Follow CBSPHILLY Facebook  | Twitter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a new health package to improve the mortality rates for pregnant mothers.

Among the objectives, the legislation aims to address huge disparities between African-American and white women.

New Jersey Assemblywoman Shanique Speight wishes there was a way to turn back time and maybe avoid having all four of her children by C-section.

“I’ve never been able to hold any of my babies right after I delivered any of them. I would have loved to had that skin to skin contact. I would have loved to had certain choices,” said Speight.

And she could have avoided serious health risks. Statistically, women with multiple C-sections see higher illness and mortality rates.

“Hemorrhage and hypertension and all the potential complications you face with one surgery, you face,” said Kathryn Collins with the New Jersey Hospital Association.

Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have more than doubled over last 30 years. New Jersey ranks in the top 5 worst states despite the high cost of living. And there are big racial disparities, in fact black women are 3 to 5 times more likely than white women to die because of childbirth.

“My husband, his mom died 3 days after she had him,” said Speight.

On Tuesday, a joint committee of New Jersey lawmakers passed a package of 14 bills aimed at making childbirth safer.

“Well it’s unclear why New Jersey is doing so poorly but clearly we need to adopt best practices. We need to follow initiatives that have been done elsewhere that have shown to be successful,” said Herb Conaway, chairman of the New Jersey Assembly Health Committee.

Among the new measures – safer protocols for health professionals, and better education for pregnant women and a bill to increase Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days after childbirth to a full year.

“That’s going to do wonders for getting women access to the care they need,” Conaway said.

All the bills passed today must still face votes before the full state assembly and some might even draw opposition for their costs and medical mandates. Also, Wednesday is New Jersey’s second annual Maternal Health Awareness Day.