In 2023, in the richest and most powerful nation on Earth, it shouldn’t be life-threatening to carry a child and give birth. Yet for years, mothers in these United States — Black mothers especially — have suffered from elevated mortality rates, rates that were only driven higher during COVID-19, as women of all ethnic backgrounds saw the sharpest-ever annual fatality spike.
New CDC numbers reveal that 1,205 women died of pregnancy-related causes in 2021, compared with 861 in 2020 and 754 in 2019. That represented a one-year jump of 38% and a two-year jump of 64%, to the highest maternal mortality rate on record since 1965. Egad. Much of the increase can be attributed to COVID-19; the virus was a contributing factor in at least 400 maternal deaths, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Though that particular public health emergency has since abated (though not disappeared), there are two emergencies inside it that remain.
First, America’s overall rate was and still is far higher than its peer countries, and remains high by international standards whether you’re white, Latina or Black. Our maternal mortality is 54% higher than Russia’s; nearly double Canada’s; more than double the U.K.’s, France’s and Italy’s, and five times Japan’s and Germany’s.
Second, race-based disparities here are especially egregious, and stubborn. Black women are 2.6 and 2.5 times likelier to die of maternity-related causes than white or Hispanic women.
There’s no single, simple reason for that shameful fact. Research suggests economic disadvantages, discrimination by health care providers and chronic stress all add up to take their toll. And the problem is inextricable from the fact that, even after the passage of Obamacare, too many Black Americans lack affordable access to quality medical treatment.
The Biden administration last year laid out a thoughtful blueprint to save mothers’ lives; passage of sweeping federal legislation, a dozen bills collectively nicknamed the Momnibus, would go further.
Waste no time. American women are dying in numbers far too large. As long as they do, American values remain on life support.