The United States is, by most accounts, the world’s wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation. Yet, concerning the health of expecting mothers and their yet-to-be-born children, our nation is woeful in every measure. The maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States are so high that they should be an embarrassment. The statistics indicate a healthcare system we must overhaul immediately for the sake of our mothers and their unborn children.
In addition, the statistics show a consistent and ever-present disparity between the mortality rates of our Black mothers and babies regardless of their financial and socio-economic status. It is a shameful failure of our healthcare system. Every woman, regardless of race, income, or education level, deserves access to high-quality, compassionate care during pregnancy and childbirth. Until we address the systemic issues contributing to this disparity, we will continue to see Black women and their families suffer unnecessary and heartbreaking losses.
Deadly disparities persist as Black women are almost three times as likely as White women to die from pregnancy-related causes.
Childbirth is supposed to be one of the most joyous experiences in a woman’s life. However, for Black women in the United States, it can be a life-threatening experience regardless of their financial, educational, corporate, or institutional status. The consistently high maternal mortality rates for Black women in America are not new; a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) highlights that even when Black families are affluent, childbirth is still deadlier for them.
The maternal mortality rate in the United States has increased overall in the last few years. Still, deadly disparities persist as Black women are almost three times as likely as White women to die from pregnancy-related causes. The NBER study shows that differences in economic circumstances cannot explain the discrepancy. The study found that Black women who are college-educated and have high incomes are more likely to experience maternal mortality than white women who dropped out of high school and live in poverty. A study sample of two million California births shows that the most affluent Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die as the wealthiest white mothers and their babies.
The March of Dimes has been shouting about the inequity and the importance of this concern from the rooftops for over a decade. For decades, maternal mortality rates for Black women have been higher than those of white women. Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the maternal death rate for Black women was 44 per 100,000 live births in 2019, then increased to 55 in 2020 and 69 in 2021. In contrast, White women had death rates of 18, 19, and 26, respectively.
The reasons why childbirth is deadlier for Black families are complex and multifaceted. We must acknowledge that systemic racism exists in our healthcare systems. Black women are more likely to receive substandard care, to have their pain and concerns dismissed, and to experience bias from medical professionals who ignore these crucial factors, whether the patient or the public statistics vocalizes the concerns. These factors can contribute to delays in diagnosis and treatment, which, in turn, lead to death.
Black women in the United States face various social and economic challenges that can contribute to stress and poor health outcomes. Studies have shown that chronic stress can lead to preterm birth and other complications during pregnancy, increasing maternal mortality risk. As a result, Black women are more likely to have preexisting conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, which can increase the risk of complications during pregnancy. However, healthcare providers may not have the training or resources to manage these conditions effectively.
Addressing the issue of maternal mortality for Black women will require a comprehensive approach that addresses these complex factors. It will require investing in healthcare infrastructure and resources, training healthcare providers to address implicit bias and provide culturally competent care and eliminating the factors contributing to poor health outcomes for Black women.
But we cannot wait. the time for action is now. Given the statistical analysis today, we must demand that all doctors and other healthcare workers should be required to treat all pregnant Black women and their yet-to-be-born children as high-risk patients. We must change the existing laws and procedures to make it clear that failure to treat Black mothers and their yet-to-be-born children as high-risk patients will be a prima facia malpractice case with no limit on the damages that can be awarded.
The Los Angeles Urban League and our healthcare providers should step up and change these statistics and close these incessant disparities. Black mothers deserve to live and experience the joy of motherhood without an ever-increasing risk of death.