Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

More Bad News on Maternal Mortality (Back to the Future, Part 18)

The  "U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis" (The Commonwealth Fund Report, 14 December 2022), Back to the Future, Part 18 

A few days ago, the Commonwealth Fund published a new report on the status of maternal mortality in the United States. Dated 1 December 2022, the comparative study, authored by Munira Z. Gunja, Evan D. Gumas, and Reginald D. Williams II, had a shocking, but not surprising, title: "The U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis Continues to Worsen: An International Comparison." 

I say "shocking" for obvious reasons. I say "not surprising," because maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have long been exceedingly bad. As Gunja, Gumas, and Williams note, "The maternal mortality rate in the United States has for many years exceeded that of other high-income countries. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show rates worsening around the world in recent years, as well as a widening gap between the U.S. and its peer nations."* 

Despite the urgency of the findings, I put off writing about the report--it was too depressing. But, today, the Commonwealth Fund has issued an even more urgent report, "The U.S. Maternal Health Divide: The Limited Maternal Health Services and Worse Outcomes of States Proposing New Abortion Restrictions."**

Together, these two publications present a devastating healthcare reality for women in the United States. 

Just one chart from the Commonwealth's "U.S. Maternal Mortality Crisis" is eye-opening: 

And, as the authors of the study note, "Data show that the maternal mortality rate in the United States — more than three times the rate in most other high-income countries — is getting worse, and the rate for Black women is nearly three times higher than for white women."

As for the "health divide" for women living in the U.S.? It will surprise no one that maternal (and infant) health is far worse in states where abortion has been made illegal or so seriously restricted that it may as well be illegal: "Compared to states where abortion is accessible, states that have banned, are planning to ban, or have otherwise restricted abortion have fewer maternity care providers; more maternity care 'deserts'; higher rates of maternal mortality and infant death, especially among women of color; higher overall death rates for women of reproductive age; and greater racial inequities across their health care systems."

Moreover, "Making abortion illegal makes pregnancy and childbirth more dangerous; it also threatens the health and lives of all women of reproductive age."

Because of course it does. So much for the "we value every single precious life" forced-birth crowd. What a load of crap.

*For data, see this CDC report on maternal mortality rates in 2021. And for earlier discussions of maternal and infant mortality rates in the United States in this blog, click "Global Gender Report" in the labels, below.

**The Commonwealth Fund report is authored by Eugene Declercq, Ruby Barnard-Mayers, and Laurie Zephyrin, Kay Johnson

Update: Here's more on maternal health, if you can stand it, from Axios.

Update, 16 December 2022: And still more, from the Washington Post, "Can Politics Kill You?" No mystery--the answer to that question is yes. The majority of the piece is about the way COVID has taken a heavy toll on Republicans and conservatives, but there's this:
With abortion services no longer legal nationwide, university researchers have estimated that maternal deaths could increase by up to 25 to 30 percent, worsening the nation’s maternal mortality and morbidity crisis. Americans live shorter lives than people in peer nations, in part because it is the worst place among high-income countries to give birth.

Update, 17 December 2022: And even more, from the Texas Tribune's Eleanor Klibanoff, "Why Are Pregnancy and Childbirth Killing So Many Black Women in Texas?" (click here). Here's just a bit:

A decade ago, when Texas first formed the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, Black women were twice as likely as white women, and four times as likely as Hispanic women, to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

Those disparities haven’t improved, according to the committee’s latest report, published Thursday.

In 2020, pregnant Black women were twice as likely to experience critical health issues like hemorrhage, preeclampsia and sepsis. While complications from obstetric hemorrhage declined overall in Texas in recent years, Black women saw an increase of nearly 10%.

Update, 19 March 2023: In a piece titled "US Maternal Death Rate Rose Sharply in 2021 . . . and Experts Worry the Problem Is Getting Worse, CNN reports on the new data just released by the National Center for Health Statistics (see the link in *, above). According to the CDC's Center for Health Statistics, "The number of women who died of maternal causes in the United States rose to 1,205 in 2021. . . . That’s a sharp increase from years earlier: 658 in 2018, 754 in 2019 and 861 in 2020." Check out the report--the graphs will stun you.

And CNN refers to the Commonwealth Fund's report (discussed above), published at the end of 2022: "The US has the highest maternal death rate of any developed nation."

Are we all ready for those "We're Number One" bullshit cheers we here so often? All that "greatest country in the world" claptrap? Yeah, I thought so . . . 

Update, 19 July 2023: Here is Veronica Gillispie-Bell's heartbreaking New York Times op-ed, "More Mothers Are Dying. It Doesn't Have to Be This Way." Gillispie-Bell links to the 3 July "Trends in State-Level Maternal Mortality by Racial and Ethnic Group in the United States" (JAMA 330, no. 1 [2023]: 52-61; for the online abstract, click here.)

Update, 12 September 2023: For ways to address the problem of maternal mortality, see Mara Gay's NYT opinion piece, "America Already Knows How to Make Childbirth Safer" (click here).