Mothers of Color Are Dying at an Alarming Rate & Twitter Users Are Begging People to Pay Attention


mom and baby

When we think about the health care crisis in this country, we tend to think about the troubling number of people who cannot afford health insurance, people -- who may have insurance or not -- who are at risk of or actually end up going bankrupt as a result of medical bills. But that's just one shameful issue affecting Americans in 2018. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women in the US are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than other women in the developed world. Research suggests that more than half of pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths are preventable. And the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is 3 to 4 times higher than those of white women.

This disturbing fact was at the center of a crucial conversation between MomsRising -- a grassroots organization working to increase family economic security and decrease discrimination against women and moms -- and a handful of US members of Congress on Monday, October 29. 

  • For their conversation on #MaternalJustice, MomsRising cited the alarming stat and asked legislators to share other facts "to help frame the issue."

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  • Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat from Massachusetts, replied with a horrifying stat that puts the tremendous problem in perspective. 

  • He went on to share that the UN had urged the US to take action on the disparity back in 2014. 

    And yet ... no progress has been made, and obviously, we need to do better. 

  • Democratic Senators Cory Booker (from New Jersey) and Kirsten Gillibrand (from New York) weighed in, as well, calling this a public health crisis.

  • Twitter users following the conversation couldn't agree more. 

  • Mental health counselor Alison Hanna took to Instagram to post Rep. Kennedy's statistic calling it "horrifying."

  • A doula from Ann Arbor, Michigan, pointed out that internal biases in the medical community are a part of the problem, as well. 

    Her point has sadly been well-documented.

    A December 2017 NPR story entitled, "Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth" notes that "problems are amplified by unconscious biases that are embedded in the medical system, affecting quality of care in stark and subtle ways. In the more than 200 stories of African-American mothers that ProPublica and NPR have collected over the past year, the feeling of being devalued and disrespected by medical providers was a constant theme." 

    A few deeply disturbing examples: "The new mother in Nebraska with a history of hypertension who couldn't get her doctors to believe she was having a heart attack until she had another one. The young Florida mother-to-be whose breathing problems were blamed on obesity when in fact her lungs were filling with fluid and her heart was failing. The Arizona mother whose anesthesiologist assumed she smoked marijuana because of the way she did her hair. The Chicago-area businesswoman with a high-risk pregnancy who was so upset at her doctor's attitude that she changed OB/GYNs in her seventh month, only to suffer a fatal postpartum stroke." 

  • Thankfully, senators are getting the ball rolling on legislation that could begin to tackle this truly unnerving issue.

    In August, Sen. Gillibrand announced the Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards (MOMS) Act, new legislation that would help prevent women from suffering from medical complications or dying before, during, and after childbirth. 

    A press release on the legislation explains how it would work: "Hospitals often lack the funding and resources necessary for supplies and proper training to implement standards and prevent complications and deaths arising from childbirth. The MOMS Act would help reduce maternal deaths and complications in the United States by providing funding to states and hospitals to develop and implement standardized maternal safety best practices, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to prevent and respond to complications arising from childbirth."

    “Our country has the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world, and it’s even worse for black women, who are up to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications nationally. In New York City, black women are twelve times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. This is completely unacceptable and largely avoidable, and it’s a crisis that we can and must solve now,” said Gillibrand in the press release. “This much-needed legislation would help our hospitals monitor all mothers before, during, and after they give birth, for preventable but potentially fatal conditions like hemorrhage and preeclampsia, and it would provide them with the federal funding they need to purchase supplies to implement new procedures and effectively treat patients. We need to protect and value mothers, and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation to address the urgent crisis of maternal mortality and help end racial disparities in our health care system.”

  • In the release, Monifa Bandele, MomsRising's senior vice president of Maternal Justice Programs, sang the legislation's praises.

    "The US has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world and due to racial bias in our health care system, women of color are disproportionately affected regardless of income, education, or access to healthcare," Bandele said. "This legislation would help change that by standardizing protocols and increasing training for medical staff, which helps mitigate the impact of implicit bias, and authorizing a program to support hospitals serving low-income communities that are most at risk for maternal mortality. We commend this bill for including a focus on reducing the racial and ethnic disparities that drive maternal deaths."  

  • The bill is currently in the first stage of the legislative process.

    The legislation will need to be considered by a committee before it is possibly sent on to the House or Senate. 

    In the meantime, MomRising's discussion with legislators and the alarming statistics cited throughout the conversation speak for themselves. This is a public health crisis we should be ashamed of as Americans. We must do better for mothers of color.