Imagine you’re a father to a wonderful son. You’ve raised this son for 18 years. One day around his 18th birthday, your child succumbs to a mysterious illness. Your family is poor and you cannot afford proper medical care. As your son’s sickness worsens, he tells you that his sickness can be cured, but there’s a catch: the cure is human flesh. You refuse to entertain the thought as it sickens you, but as your son’s health continues to deteriorate, you decide there is no other option. Thus, you turn to a local shaman who advises you that the only way you can save your son is with a human sacrifice. With desperation setting in, you and several relatives lure a 10-year-old child with the promise of food and money. Once in your grasp, you kill the child. Sounds like the plot of a horror movie, no? Unfortunately this story of modern human sacrifice is all too real.
In 1990, it was 12 per 100,000 in the US.
In 2013, it was 28 per 100,000 in the US.
Damn! What’s going on in the United States? Why is it going up here, but dropping worldwide. The answer is…oh, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. What the heck is “it”?
“It” is Maternal Mortality
Which is defined as:
[…] the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes.
Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.
Maternal mortality is higher in women living in rural areas and among poorer communities.
Young adolescents face a higher risk of complications and death as a result of pregnancy than older women.
Skilled care before, during and after childbirth can save the lives of women and newborn babies.
The figures listed above for the United States are maternal mortality ratios (the number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth per live 100,000 births). So yeah, this is a ongoing healthcare crisis. One that disproportionately affects women of color in the United States. An Amnesty International report reveals that:
The USA spends more than any other country on
health care, and more on maternal health than any
other type of hospital care. Despite this, women in the
USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related
complications than those in 40 other countries. For
example, the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth
in the USA is five times greater than in Greece, four
times greater than in Germany, and three times greater
than in Spain.
African-American women are nearly four times more
likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than
white women. These rates and disparities have not
improved in more than 20 years.
During 2004 and 2005, more than 68,000 women
nearly died in childbirth in the USA. Each year, 1.7
million women suffer a complication that has an
adverse effect on their health.
This is not just a public health emergency – it is a
human rights crisis. Women in the USA face a range
of obstacles in obtaining the services they need. The
health care system suffers from multiple failures:
discrimination; financial, bureaucratic and language
barriers to care; lack of information about maternal
care and family planning options; lack of active
participation in care decisions; inadequate staffing
and quality protocols; and a lack of accountability
This crisis is so bad that the UN is taking notice. In August 2014, a report was released by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). In it, a compelling case was made that the United States is in violation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. I do not think this is what is meant by American exceptionalism. This is one more data point that shows the US is not a post-racial society. Colorlines reveals some of the findings of the CRR report:
When you look at these statistics based on race and geography, the picture becomes even bleaker. According to “Reproductive Injustice,” over the last 40 years, the rate of black women dying in childbirth has been three to four times the rate of their white counterparts. And in many places where the white maternal mortality rate is so insignificant it can’t even be reported, black maternal mortality rates are way above the national average. For example, in Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, there are 94 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for black women—three times the national average. The white maternal mortality rate in the same county is essentially zero—too insignificant to report. In Chicksaw County, Mississippi, the maternal mortality rate is higher than those in countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Rwanda.
“Reproductive Injustice” names various factors as contributing to the problem. There’s poverty: Citing a 2010 Amnesty International report, it says that high-poverty states had maternal mortality rates that were 77 percent higher than states with a higher percentage of people living above the poverty line.
According to “Reproductive Injustice,” women of color are much more likely than white women to live in poverty and lack health insurance—barriers to health care that can lead to diabetes and heart disease, chronic health conditions that put women at greater risk for dying in childbirth.
“Reproductive Injustice” also identifies poor health care quality as a factor in maternal mortality. Black women and Latinas, it says, are more likely to receive poorer quality health care than white women. Based on the 2013 National Healthcare Disparities Report, “Reproductive Injustice” says that African-Americans and Latinos received worse care on 40 percent of measures compared to whites. Poor people, it found, received worse care on 60 percent of measures compared to higher income people.
The healthcare system in the United States is broken. 19 US states (a number that includes almost all Southern states) have opted not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (colloquially known as Obamacare). Of course this has the result of disproportionately affecting low income women, and women of color. Access to contraception and abortion would greatly improve the quality of life for both groups. The United States claims to be a post racial society, but any society that fails to offer equitable healthcare for all its citizens on the basis of race or gender can most certainly NOT make that claim.