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Racism, poverty and substandard maternal care in America

In most developed nations, death during childbearing and childbirth is declining -- except in the United States.

Death rates in the United States among pregnant women and new mothers have actually more than doubled between 1987 and 2013. Depending on where you live and what race you are, the statistics can be even more terrifying.

In Texas, for example, a report on maternal mortality rates found that black women were responsible for only 11.4 percent of births in Texas between 2011 and 2012. However, they also represented almost 29 percent of maternal deaths.

Nobody has a clear answer as to why it is happening -- and while Texas has the most dramatic statistics, every state in the nation is facing similar problems. There are a few clues that seem related:

  • There have been nationwide cuts to women's health programs that once provided significant prenatal services -- free of charge -- to low-income women.
  • Without insurance or access to free health care, many women simply cannot afford early prenatal care -- which is when many risk factors to the mother (like hypertension or diabetes) are discovered.
  • Women of color are more likely to be in low-income households.

However, even those facts don't totally explain the disparity. White mothers from low-income households who lack insurance still fare better and are more likely to survive their pregnancies than black mothers.

Some suggest the problem is nothing more than old-fashioned racism. Racism against expectant mothers who are poor and black can be overt and increase the stress they feel -- and it can cause doctors to dismiss their complaints. Black women report that doctors are often condescending to them when they are pregnant, approach their pregnancies in a disapproving manner and treat them as if they are simply using their children to milk a little more money out of the welfare system.

That racist attitude may cause a doctor or hospital to overlook complaints, fail to run tests that would be run on a white woman with similar issues or treat the mother's suffering almost as something she deserves for "gaming" the system.

If you feel that you (or a close relative, like a daughter) received substandard care during pregnancy due to racism and either she or the baby suffered harm, an attorney can provide more information about your options.

Source: lacrossetribune.com, "The quiet crisis among African-Americans: Pregnancy and childbirth are killing women at inexplicable rates," Ann M. Simmons, Nov. 11, 2017

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