Letting Pregnant Women Die in America

Pregnant Woman and DeathPoliticians, activists, and courts are busy fighting about when and whether to permit a woman to have an abortion. But while that tussle continues, very little energy goes into the problem of an extraordinary number of pregnant women who die in America. A new report from the CDC tells us that maternal death rates soared in 2021 – up by 40 percent in a single year.

Of course, the first question to ask is, why? The easy answer is COVID. Like most easy answers, though, it’s not very informative. The larger truth is that the rate of maternal deaths has been climbing for at least two decades.

Since 2018, the maternal death rate has almost doubled for all women. For Hispanic women, it came closer to tripling. For Black women, it’s more than double what it is for White women.

Neglect of maternal health, combined with widening health disparities, means that the U.S. has by far the highest maternal death rates of any wealthy country. It’s ten times higher than other high income countries.

Chronic Diseases

Multiple factors are clearly driving this long-term trend in higher maternal death rates. In a 2022 research report, the Commonwealth fund tells us:

“A high rate of cesarean sections, inadequate prenatal care, and elevated rates of chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease may be factors contributing to the high U.S. maternal mortality rate. Many maternal deaths result from missed or delayed opportunities for treatment.”

The prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease is rising in women of childbearing ages. With severe obesity, the risk of maternal death more than triples. Just as the prevalence of these chronic diseases made the U.S. uniquely vulnerable to COVID, it left pregnant women especially vulnerable when COVID arrived.

Valuing Life and Health

Public discourse is full of talk about the value of health and life. Yet, through inaction, we let pregnant women die at rates that far exceed what happens in other wealthy countries. We seem especially callous about the deaths of Black mothers.

Perhaps some of the righteous energy that goes into regulating decisions about abortions would do more good if it went into concern for the health and the lives of women who may become pregnant.

Click here for the new report from CDC, here, here, here, and here for further perspective.

Pregnant Woman and Death, painting by Egon Schiele / WikiArt

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March 17, 2023

One Response to “Letting Pregnant Women Die in America”

  1. March 17, 2023 at 9:58 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup! Sometimes “righteous energy” can be very selective.