Skip to main content

By Alexa Spencer, originally published in Word in Black

A nonprofit and a law firm filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco and the state of California over Abundant Birth Project, an initiative that provides pregnant Black and Pacific Islander San Franciscans with $1,000 monthly stipends.

The Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and the Dallas-based American Civil Rights Project are suing based on a claim that the Abundant Birth Project violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by providing funds exclusively to women of color. When passed by the Lyndon Johnson administration, the law ended segregation in public places and forbade employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

“These government-sponsored and publicly funded programs are designed to select beneficiaries on a racially exclusionary basis. This is unconstitutional… Defendants’ payment schemes also discriminate unlawfully on the bases of gender/gender identity and sexual orientation,” the lawsuit reads.

The Abundant Birth Project was launched in 2021 to study the health impacts of providing supplemental income to mothers during pregnancy and for six months postpartum. Its goal was to reduce racial disparities in San Francisco, a city where Black mothers accounted for 4% of births between 2007 and 2016, but made up half of all maternal deaths.

After granting $1K to 150 mothers over 12 months in San Francisco, the program announced an additional $5 million investment in 2022 with plans to expand to Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, and Riverside.

“For so long, Black women have been excluded from the resources needed to have safe and healthy pregnancies. This funding will provide pregnant people with economic stability during this critical phase in their lives while allowing public health institutions to test a novel and promising public health intervention,” Dr. Zea Malawa, director of Expecting Justice, said in a statement.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of litigation attacks on Black-focused programs. It comes months after Fearless Fund, a Black woman-led venture capital company, was sued for offering grants to Black business owners.

Health care providers, and health equity supporters shared their thoughts about the Abundant Birth Project suit on social media. Uché Blackstock, an emergency medical doctor and author, called the suit “sick” with a clear intent.

“Today, Black babies are more than 2x as likely to die in their 1st year than white babies, due to racism – a wider disparity now than 15 yrs b4 the end of slavery (white enslavers had a $$ interest in keeping Black babies alive!!!),” she wrote.

“WHITE LAWYERS V. BLACK BABIES,” wrote Cornell Brooks, a lawyer and former president of the NAACP. “The race specific bias of American medicine means Black babies die 2.4 x the rate of White babies. SO conservative legal groups sue a program for helping Black mothers. Why? It is race specific #AffirmativeAction 4 dying babies. Outrageous.”