As racial disparities in maternal health complications rise and unequal access to comprehensive care continues, American women face potentially life-threatening health outcomes — and the outlook is particularly frightening for Black women.
They are three times more likely to die due to pregnancy related causes than white women. In the United States, Black maternal mortality rates are so high they’re comparable to the rates in developing countries. And the racial gap has grown over the past few decades, despite advancements in medicine and technology.
Many experts point to systematic racism — including known inequities in access to quality health care before pregnancy to provider bias during childbirth — as the root cause. As a result, more Black women, amid the coronavirus pandemic, are seeking maternal health care outside of the hospitals where they’ve historically been mistreated. Instead, they’re turning to Black midwives and doulas, afraid of traditional medical systems that have dismissed them. For some, it harkens back to the West African birthing techniques of some of their ancestors over generations.
Meanwhile, reproductive justice activists are sounding alarms as they fight for abortion access, challenging lawmakers on legislation like Senate Bill 8 in Texas, which banned abortions statewide after about six weeks of pregnancy. The bill went into effect in September 2021.
Capital B will continuously report on maternal and reproductive health across the nation. Here is some suggested reading:
Lost Mothers — A ProPublica Series featuring Nina Martin that investigates why so many mothers, especially Black women, die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Half of these deaths are preventable.
Deadly Deliveries — A USA Today Investigation by Alison Young that digs into why the United States is the most dangerous place to give birth among developed countries.
How Serena Williams Saved Her Own Life — Serena Williams tells her story of being a Black mom in the American health care system for ELLE. “Giving birth to my baby, it turned out, was a test for how loud and how often I would have to call out before I was finally heard,” she wrote.
Maternal Deaths Rose During the First Year of the Pandemic — Due to COVID-19 and pandemic-related disruptions in maternal health care, deaths increased for American women during pregnancy and after birth amid the pandemic. A third of those who died in 2020 were Black, Roni Caryn Rabin reports for the New York Times.
‘The Entire Conversation Needs To Change’: Reproductive Justice Leaders On The Fight For Abortion Access — For ELLE, Brea Baker talks to four women who have been on the front lines of the national fight for abortion, about Senate Bill 8 in Texas, and what it means for abortion access in the future — particularly for women of color.
Black women and the fight for abortion rights: How this brochure sparked the movement for reproductive freedom — Natelegé Whaley dives into the history of Black women’s right to choose for NBC News.
Black Trans Women Have Always Been Integral in the Fight for Women’s Rights — Ashlee Marie Preston explores the resilience of Black trans women throughout history for Harper’s Bazaar.
Bonus: Florida mothers of color, seeking better care, turn to midwives and doulas — For the Tampa Bay Times, I delve into why Black women are shying away from hospitals for labor and delivery.
Further Reading and Listening
Racism, birth control and reproductive rights — In this chapter of “Women, Race, & Class” by Angela Davis, she examines some of the American racism that clouded early feminist demands for reproductive rights.
Going Beyond Roe — Activist and scholar Loretta Ross talks Roe v. Wade on New York Public Radio’s “On the Media” show.
Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health: An Overview — This report by the Kaiser Family Foundation breaks down the data on pregnancy-related deaths across the country.
Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty — Scholar and social justice activist Dorothy Roberts writes about the abuse of Black women’s bodies in the United States.
This post was updated with additional suggestions.