The reality of risks and dangers to pregnant people in America is a moral and ethical shame — and we’re making the problem worse.
In the novel “Catch-22,” the protagonist Capt. Yossarian considers the U.S. Army his enemy. Why? Because it sends him into battle, where he could be killed. The enemy, he reasons, is anyone trying to kill you — whether they target you, or make you a target.
Consider the circumstance of a pregnant person in the United States. Giving birth may not be as hazardous as going into battle, but it’s far more dangerous than many people realize.
In the United States in 2020, there were 24 deaths per 100,000 live births. That rate is three times as high other high-income nations — and it’s getting worse. In The Netherlands, the maternal death rate is close to zero.
And like a lot of things in America, it’s worse for black women. Their maternal death rate is double the average and three times higher than the rate for white women. For Native American women, the maternal mortality rate is 3.5 times worse than for white women.
Sadly, most of these deaths are preventable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that four out five deaths of women during or shortly after pregnancy could have been avoided with proper health care. A third of our nation’s counties do not have access to a hospital or birth center offering obstetric care.
Plain and simple, we are failing American women, and most especially non-white American women.
The lack of maternity care, both during and after pregnancy, is a stain on our country’s values and ability to care for our own.
But the travails go deeper, and are more fraught than you might expect.
The Threat to Pregnant Women at Home
The leading cause of death of pregnant women has nothing to do with pregnancy.
Women who are pregnant are more likely to be murdered than to die of causes related to childbirth, such as high blood pressure or sepsis. Women who are pregnant or postpartum are also more like to be killed than women who aren’t.