Imagine this: You live in a country with the highest per capita income in the world, more people have health insurance than ever before in your nation’s history, you’re surrounded by some of the best medical facilities in the world, and women are dying in childbirth at rates on par with countries that have vastly fewer national resources and medical infrastructure.
Welcome to the United States of America.
For the last two decades, maternal mortality rates have risen sharply in the U.S. – even amid Americans’ expanded access to health care through the Affordable Care Act . For Black women, maternal mortality rates have reached critical levels, with Black women dying from pregnancy-related complications at 3.5 times the rate of their white counterparts nationally. In Texas, Black women make up roughly 11 percent of the state’s births but almost a third of the mothers who die in childbirth.
There is no singular reason for the decisive increase in maternal mortality nationally, or in Black communities specifically. A lack of access to quality and affordable health care certainly plays a role, as do overlapping health disparities. But for communities of color, and Black communities in particular, those factors are compounded with discrimination and implicit racial bias in medical treatment that can lead to pregnant Black women receiving different and often worse care. This can lead to further complications and greatly increase their risk of maternal death. Moreover, the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. cuts across age, education, and income level – a terrifying reality in a country as well-resourced as the U.S.
So when politicians propose six and 20-week abortion bans and threaten birth control access while salivating over the opportunity to repeal the Affordable Care Act, “defund” Planned Parenthood, and close health centers that serve pregnant and parenting moms (we see you Texas, Iowa, and Ohio), excuse us if we call foul on their disingenuous concern for women’s lives. True care for women and families means providing more access to quality, compassionate, and affordable health care, like the kind you get at Planned Parenthood, not eliminating health centers that provide it. It also means ensuring women, their families, and their communities have access to all of the “social supports in safe environments and healthy communities, and without fear of violence from individuals or the government."
While the decision to parent a child, end a pregnancy, or choose adoption should always belong to the pregnant person, for us it’s clear: Carrying a pregnancy to term should not put women’s lives at risk.
If politicians are appalled by the statistics on maternal mortality (and they should be), they should also oppose any plan that uses reproductive health care as a bargaining chip to pass tax reform or limit birth control access. Instead, they should work to expand affordable, quality, and accessible health care to those who need it most.
Prenatal care is health care. Abortion care is health care. Birth control is health care. Full stop.
All of these are necessary components of the full range of reproductive health care services that allow women to lead fulfilling and healthy lives.