In the United States, black women are experiencing pregnancy-related deaths at 3 to 4 times the rate of white women. Though these statistics are not new, why have they not changed? Why does the government not see this as an urgent issue?
Last week I spoke at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urge the United States to use a human rights framework to improve maternal mortality in the U.S. That’s right: Black women are dying around the world, and black women in the U.S. need to be placed in the context of an international crisis. — Dr. Joia Crear Perry, The Root
Unfortunately, maternal mortality is on the rise in the United States — unlike in any other developed nation. According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), 64.8% of the pregnancy-related deaths during 2011–2012 were caused by diseases (non-cardiovascular and cardiovascular), infection, hemorrhage, and cardiomyopathy. The CDC also noted huge racial disparities in these deaths:
During 2011–2012, the pregnancy-related mortality ratios were:
- 11.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women.
- 41.1 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women.
- 15.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for women of other races. — CDC Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System
So, why are black women experiencing such high maternal mortality rates compared to white women (and women of other races)? Well, first, let us remove the influences of age, socioeconomic status, and education level of the mother. According to the CDC, black women have maternal mortality rates at 3 to 4 times those of white women even when controlling for those factors. Rather, discrimination may be a factor in these racial disparities as examined in “Discrimination and racial disparities in health: evidence and needed research” in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. (The paper revealed a strong association between racial discrimination and adverse health.) The considerable racial disparity in maternal mortality may then lead to “lack of prenatal care, lack of access to adequate care, and high rates of co-morbidity, or pre-existing conditions”, according to research at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
The U.S.—a country that spends more per capita on health care than any other developed nation—has one of the most sophisticated, technologically advanced health care systems in the world, but we still have inequities. Black women are still suffering from preventable maternal deaths. …
The human rights framework gives us a way to address structural racism in the U.S. Human rights law provides a more robust analysis of discrimination than the U.S. legal framework, which was constructed on the premise of inequality of human value based upon race. — Dr. Joia Crear Perry, The Root