Black Maternal Death Rates
Black maternal mortality, or the deaths of black women/African Americans during or after childbirth, is a commonly used term in the United States. Generally, maternal death can result from a wide range of causes, such as a pregnancy’s characteristics or the birth process itself, but is not usually brought on by accidental or secondary causes (Khan et al., 2006). Every year, about 700 women in the U.S. pass away from pregnancy-related diseases or complications. This figure excludes the 50,000 or so women who, during childbirth, face potentially fatal complications that leave them with permanent disabilities and difficulties.
Throughout history, there have been large disparities between the infant deaths of white women and black women. According to the CDC, maternal mortality among black women in the U.S. is three times higher than among white women. In the U.S., the average maternal death rate is 16 in every 100,000 live births among white women, compared to 42 in every 100,000 live births for black women. Additionally, statistics obtained by the CDC Maternity Surveillance Study demonstrate that rather than an increase in the number of cases associated with an increased incidence of black maternal deaths, they are caused by higher fatality rates. Most maternal deaths are preventable since the common causes are illnesses that develop or worsen during pregnancy.
Due to past systemic abuse, the historical background of entrenched racial oppression has affected black people’s access to technical and pharmaceutical discrimination, rendering them unlikely to embrace medical institutions (Sabri & Gielen, 2019). Racial inequalities have long plagued the fields of medicine and health. Due to slavery, black bodies have been reduced to being objects of pleasure or being exploited. According to an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health, legislation that made slavery inheritable heightened the surveillance of black women and compelled them to have mothers to benefit from their captors’ financial gain. Additionally, numerous medical and surgical procedures were created by abusing the bodies of black women who were under slavery.
According to extensive research on income as a social justice issue, poorer health outcomes throughout pregnancy and life have been linked to poorer socioeconomic positions and income levels (Corrigan et al., 2005). Being uninsured, relying on Medicaid, and being homeless are all linked to a significant incidence rate and are more likely to affect black women, who also have a higher chance of miscarriage. Due to systemic racism, black women are more likely to be members of the lower socioeconomic strata. The experiences of black women in the Intensive Care Unit after giving birth highlight how widespread racism affects black women of all socioeconomic backgrounds and educational levels both during and after childbirth.
The highest proportion of pre-existing disorders across all major ethnic and racial groups in the United States increased among black women from approximately 10% to roughly 17% between 1993 and 2012, according to an analysis of trends in maternal mortality. Black women are likely to experience unfavorable pregnancy outcomes, increasing their vulnerability to cardiovascular conditions and their chance of material death. Additionally, cardiovascular disease in black women is more prevalent in their pre-existing state. In addition, they are more likely to develop preeclampsia and have higher obesity and chronic disease rates. Due to their higher likelihood of unplanned births, black women are also at risk of skipping previous checkups and treatments for pre-existing diseases before, during, and after their pregnancies.
The American Social Health Association identified structural racism as a public health concern, attributing it to historical and contemporary factors (Gee & Ford, 2011). Blacks are generally less likely to receive high-quality medical care than their white counterparts. The unconscious and explicit forms of this racism are detrimental to the health of black people. Implicit biases are tested using “confirmed tests of unconscious association,” whereas self-reports often assess explicit biases. Empirical data support the hypothesis that white doctors have negative implicit and explicit racial prejudices, prompting them to be swayed by these prejudices when evaluating healthcare choices for their patients. Therefore, this fuels the racial injustices pervasive in the health service.
Black participants were less likely to acquire pain medicine than white patients, and if they did, they were most likely given an under dose. Due to this tendency, medical personnel often underestimate Black women’s discomfort, which increases the death rate among pregnant black women. The Harvard School of Public Health examined this phenomenon by compiling multiple instances of medical workers ignoring or delaying care for black moms who indicated discomfort or troubling symptoms. The article describes Shalon Irving, a black woman who gave birth and after that developed symptoms like high blood pressure, fuzzy vision, and hematoma. Irving passed away shortly after, despite her doctors’ advice to hold off.
Maternal fatalities are also influenced by unsafe abortion, which is more common in black women because they are more inclined to have unwanted pregnancies and have a socioeconomically disadvantaged position (Rasch, 2011). Restrictions on access to abortion disproportionately harm black women because they routinely have greater abortion rates than white women. And during the past few years, the U.S. government has imposed more tight restrictions on access to safe abortions. The United Nations knows that expanding access to reliable abortions is necessary to help reduce maternal mortality. Even though there haven’t been many studies that specifically look at the issue, those who have found a connection between insecure abortion and maternal deaths find it to be true.
Methods that reduce overall maternal mortality and the ensuing health inequities have been recognized to prevent maternal fatalities. Researchers believe that mortality rates can be addressed appropriately and accounted for by raising the hospital standard of care. According to certain reports, higher-quality hospitals with many levels of care, including administrators and customer advocates, are consistent in gathering patient feedback, allowing for greater advancement in the fight against maternal mortality. In addition, facilities associated with maternal health, like an ICU, round-the-clock anesthesia, and OB/GYN experts, help to lower the rate of maternal death. Issues including pressure, hemorrhage, and preeclampsia that may contribute to maternal deaths in black women will be directly addressed with the focus on standardized treatment and early risk factors. The fact that just 70% of black women possess health insurance and that the majority have significant gaps at some point during their life must also be taken into account. Policies that emphasize the extension and upkeep of treatment and coverage must be put into place if black women are to experience an improvement in their health.
Some have advocated against the traditional concept of origin as a health risk element, instead advocating for identifying poverty and discrimination as the primary causes of Black maternal deaths and other negative health conditions for Black people. Many regions have developed initiatives to address the high rates of black maternal deaths to combat the professional discrimination within the healthcare system, ultimately contributing to reduction in maternal mortality. In 2018, professionals from various fields, including law, economics, and medicine, stated that consciously confronting racism inside and outside the medical community is vital to decreasing the threshold of black maternal deaths.
11 Alive 2021: Black women turn to doulas to prevent maternal mortality – YouTube
ABC News 2020: Black maternal mortality in US and its slave origins – YouTube
AtlanticLIVE 2019: Closing the maternal mortality gap and improving outcomes for mothers – YouTube
Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., Byrne, P., & Davis, K. E. (2005). Mental illness stigma: Problem of public health or social justice?. Social Work, 50(4), 363-368.
Gee, G. C., & Ford, C. L. (2011). Structural racism and health inequities: Old issues, New Directions1. Du Bois review: social science research on race, 8(1), 115-132.
Good morning America 2020: Good Morning America – YouTube
Khan, K. S., Wojdyla, D., Say, L., Gülmezoglu, A. M., & Van Look, P. F. (2006). WHO analysis of causes of maternal death: a systematic review. The lancet, 367(9516), 1066-1074.
PBS NewsHour 2019: The fight to end Texas’ high maternal mortality rate – YouTube
Rasch, V. (2011). Unsafe abortion and postabortion care–an overview. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica, 90(7), 692-700.
Sabri, B., & Gielen, A. (2019). Integrated multicomponent interventions for safety and health risks among Black female survivors of violence: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 20(5), 720-731.