U.S. maternal death rate grows as attacks on women’s rights continue
Four countries have seen a rise in maternal death rates in past years: Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, El Salvador and the United States. That’s pretty shocking. The numbers in each country are vastly different. The United States still ranks much lower than the other four countries. But the point is ONLY four countries have seen GROWTH in maternal death rates and the United States is among those four.
Afghanistan has suffered decades of U.S. intervention and 13 years of war. Southern Sudan has suffered the ravages of imperialist intervention and the affects of colonial underdevelopment that have left the country with high poverty indicators and low health indicators. El Salvador, following over a decade of civil war, was slapped with austerity measures and dollarization that has similar negative consequences for health and wellbeing.
Let’s compare the United States to countries that also have not been subjected to colonialism or have in fact benefited from colonialism and imperialism. Last year, the U.S. maternal death rate skyrocketed above that of Austria, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Spain, and Sweden SEVEN times. All of those countries have a maternal death rate of 4 per 100,000 women.
So what’s the United States’ explanation? How does the country that has amassed the most wealth ever in history explain a rising maternal death rate similar to countries ravaged by colonial domination and later imperialist intervention?
A kind of war has been waged internally. This has not been a war of bombs and F-16s and U.S. troops. It has been a political and economic war, a war on women, that has very real consequences for women’s health and livelihood. On the first day of the new Congress, five anti-abortion laws were introduced. A right-wing state-by-state campaign over the last four years has passed extremely anti-women, anti-choice laws in states across the Midwest and South.
The state of healthcare for women in this country is dismal. The Affordable Care Act, while providing coverage for many millions who needed it, left many millions more without coverage or with inadequate care. The Obama administration allowed employers to exempt themselves from abortion services and didn’t require abortion to be covered in all plans. The ACA meant little to women in terms of reproductive care. The Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby decision gave corporations the right to deny women birth control coverage.
All of this is having an affect. In 2014, 28 women of every 100,000 died during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States. In seven years, the rate has almost doubled, from 14.5 to 28 per 100,000. Institutionalized racism and sexism have worked together to ensure that the rates for women of color are far higher. Nationally, Black women are more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
The Center for Reproductive Rights found a clear link between high rates of maternal deaths and highly restrictive anti-abortion policies. Georgia, the state, has the highest maternal death rate (35 per 100,000) and some of the most restrictive anti-abortion policies (a total of 11 laws). Oklahoma has the second highest rate of maternal death as well as an above average infant death rate and the most restrictive polices (a total of 14 laws).
The demand for abortion services—for women to have the right to control their own bodies—is part and parcel of quality healthcare for women. Similarly, women should have access to and education about birth control, regular mammograms and other women’s health services.
It is not a moral or ethical question. As the numbers show, it is a question of health. The health and well-being of the masses of people in this country are put at risk by the way healthcare and, in particular, women’s healthcare, is treated in a capitalist country where health is a for-profit industry and not a national government priority.
There is a very clear solution. Take away the control of the vast pharmaceutical, insurance and medical companies that run healthcare in this country so that the tiny group that owns them can become wealthier and wealthier. When healthcare is run in the interests of people’s health, not their profits, the vast wealth of this highly developed nation could quickly reverse the trend in the maternal death rate.