When a child is born, medical providers quickly calculate the Apgar score. Using a 0-10 scale, numbers are assigned to gauge the baby’s breathing, pulse rate and other vitals. A score below 7 is a sign of potential distress that may require emergency care.
If there was an Apgar score for maternal health, our nation wouldn’t come close to a 7.
Nearly 1,200 women in the United States — almost 60 percent of whom were women of color — died in 2021 from complications due to pregnancy and childbirth. Given the lack of data for transgender and other birthing people, this is likely an undercount. COVID-19 exacerbated this tragedy and the Supreme Court’s recent abortion decision is expected to worsen it.
When Congress reconvenes next week, expanding care before, during and after pregnancy must be an immediate priority. Otherwise, the United States risks permanently cementing its status as one of the most dangerous nations in which to give birth — and, in many respects, one of the least supportive for raising children.
As two Black women, the dismal state of America’s maternal health system is personal to us. Consider the diverse array of people treated so poorly by it:
- Compared to white women, Black women are almost twice as likely to lack health insurance, twice as likely to have unexpected and serious problems with labor and delivery, and three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related issues.
- The maternal death rate among Latinas — nearly 20 percent of whom are uninsured — has more than doubled since 2018.
- Indigenous women, particularly those in rural areas, are at heightened risk of life-threatening complications during or following childbirth.
- Undocumented women and incarcerated women are less likely to receive prenatal and postnatal care.
- People experiencing intimate partner violence during pregnancy are at higher risk for unsafe birth outcomes.
- More than half (51 percent) of LGBTQ+ birthing people reported bias or discrimination affecting pregnancy, birth and postpartum care, compared to 35 percent of cisgender, heterosexual people.
The United States spent $4.3 trillion on healthcare in 2021. Our maternal health crisis is not due to a lack of resources, but an ongoing failure to properly and equitably allocate them. More than 2 million women of childbearing age across 1,100 counties live in maternity care deserts lacking birth centers, hospitals providing obstetric care, OB/GYNs, or certified nurse midwives. One in 6 Black babies is born in areas with no or limited maternity care services.
Women of color are severely underrepresented in the healthcare system — Black women account for …….