As a part of Harris Public Policy’s celebration of Women's History Month, we asked members of the Harris Community about the role of women in public policy studies. These are their opinions and perspectives, informed by their own life experiences and worldviews (and do not necessarily reflect the views of Harris).

Erin Keane Scott
Erin Keane Scott, Director of Marketing

Nearly ten years ago, I authored this piece for Newly awakened to the boundaries that parenthood would create for my career, I began to do a deep dive into parental leave policies and legislation. One need not look far to encounter the United States’ lagging parental leave policies as compared to the rest of the world. This map from UCLA’s World Policy Center is a powerful illustration.

What I’ve learned in the last decade is that while the contents of my piece for the New York Times were quite personal, the hurdles I was encountering were far from specific to my experience. In fact, any barriers I had to access the health and childcare I needed to get back to work were significantly lower than many others. Paid leave is just one small strand in a much larger web of systemic inequities failing people and families in their reproductive years.

In the U.S., maternal mortality is on the rise and, according to the CDC, Black people are three times more likely to die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth than white people.   Only recently have these disparities in perinatal health care been labeled as crises. In February 2021, the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act was introduced to Congress as a measure to comprehensively address and improve these outcomes. The bill reads: “​​The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other specified departments must address the social determinants of maternal health, which include child care, housing, food security, transportation, and environmental conditions.”

graph of maternal mortality rates
Maternal mortality rates, by race and Hispanic origin: United States, 2018–2020

Illinois’ own Congressperson Lauren Underwood sponsored the 12-bill package. Her willingness to raise the Black Maternal Health Crisis as a matter of policy and legislation is a proof point that we need more voices who can be advocates for creating impactful strategies to address harmful disparities in perinatal and family health.

While I was heartened to see this legislation – there is much further to go. Some provisions in the Momnibus bills were passed as part of the Build Back Better Act and as part of a Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations bill, but action has yet to be taken on most of the provisions.

More than ten years after my first time considering paid leave, in January 2024, Illinois will enact mandatory paid family leave. These small steps toward progress are coming too slowly. Greater, more empathic representation by and for people with uteruses in policy and government is critically important to address the worsening maternal health crisis. We need people who will champion improved data collection and sustained systemic change to support families, health, and work.

About Erin Keane Scott

Erin Keane Scott serves as the Director of Marketing and brings nearly a decade of experience in marketing for higher education and non-profit organizations to Harris.