The U.S. is one of the richest countries in the world, yet pregnant women here face staggering mortality rates, something New York Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn experienced firsthand. 

“Having lost a baby to negligent health care, I had to experience something that was very unfortunate – probably the most significant tragic experience (of my life),” Bichotte Hermelyn told Capital Tonight. 

About five-and-a-half years ago, during pre-term labor, Bichotte Hermelyn experienced complications surrounding a high-risk pregnancy. She traveled to New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Hospital where they sent her home.

“A New York City hospital turned me away as I started to have contractions,” Bichotte Hermelyn recalled. “I was dilating; I was told to leave.”

The doctors at New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Hospital “discharged and forcefully released her, citing ‘hospital policy’. They claimed they could not intervene before 23 weeks and refused her a bed for monitoring at the hospital.”

Days later, Bichotte Hermelyn gave birth to a child at another hospital, Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, where the baby died. 

“My son, Jonah, was one of the more than 20,000 infants that didn’t make it that year,” she said.

As a result of that trauma, the assemblywoman introduced and passed the “Jonah Bichotte Cowan Law” in memory of her late son to address the standard of care for expectant mothers experiencing pre-term labor.

“I feel that it’s a critical step toward reducing disparities, especially in Black maternal care,” she said. 

According to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Community Development Unit, for every 100,000 live births, 20 pregnancy-related deaths occur, amounting to roughly 700 deaths per year nationwide. Black women are two to four times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white women in the U.S.  

In New York City, Black women are 12 times more likely to die. 

Bichotte Hermelyn has recently introduced another maternal care bill called “Mickey’s Law” that would ensure that mothers who experience fetal deaths would receive timely treatment.

If it passes through the Legislature and is signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mickey’s Law would:

  • Require a healthcare provider to inform a patient of the options for treatment following confirmation of the death of a fetus or embryo in utero, including surgical evacuation, the induction of labor and allowing the patient to spontaneously miscarriage
  • Require the healthcare provider to arrange for the removal of the fetus or embryo and the associated products of conception through surgical evacuation or the induction of labor within forty-eight hours of the confirmation of fetal or embryo death if requested to do so by the patient and if medically advisable, or to refer the patient to another healthcare provider capable of providing such services and to advise the patient of the facility registry
  • Require a healthcare provider to notify the patient of fetal or embryo death within twenty-four hours of confirmation of the death; requires the commissioner of health to establish a registry of facilities that provide certain services

“As you know, SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade has left many providers with discretion, and it makes it vital to enshrine these rights into law,” the assemblywoman said. “People don’t understand the trauma that a mother has to go through, knowing they are carrying a dead fetus.”

The bill is named after the fetus of a woman who was denied an opportunity to have the fetus removed due to a hospital’s religious beliefs.

According to Bichotte Hermelyn, it’s standard in New York state for hospitals to wait several weeks before removing a fetus which has expired.

“That tells me that New York state has a long way to go,” she said. “It’s not the sanctuary state that we think it is.”