The Maternal Health Crisis Facing Black Women


Women in the U.S. are more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes than women in other developed countries. Unfortunately, this is disproportionately felt by black women. Black women are more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy related causes than white women by an outrageous 243 percent. Jamila Taylor, Senior Fellow with Center for American Progress sits down with us and explains that, without addressing the root causes and disparities between black women and non-Hispanic white women, black women will continue to die premature, preventable deaths.

Factors that contribute to African-Americans having higher rates of morbidity in other public health and medical areas are not able to explain the gap in maternal mortality between black women and non-Hispanic white women. Even when you count for socioeconomic status, physical health, income, and education levels between black and white women, black women see increased levels of maternal mortality. This clearly points to an issue rooted in social and structural inequality as well as racism.

Social and structural inequality and racism impacts black women’s lives, and ultimately, their maternal and general health.

Living in unhealthy environments compromises a black woman’s health which can then impact her maternal health prospects. For example, high levels of lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, meant women (primarily women of color) saw increased levels of infant mortality and miscarriages.

It is also incredibly important to examine mental health outcomes. Black women, particularly single moms, have high rates of postpartum depression that tends to affect their livelihoods and that of their children. Black women carry a heavy load in their communities; they are faced with stress in the workplace and worries regarding the overall safety of their communities, which includes police violence. Communities of color can lack access to comprehensive health care and mental health care in general, which means black mothers will have difficulties accessing mental health services.

Women of color who live in low income areas are significantly more affected by these social and structural inequalities in a way that is harmful to their livelihoods. Structural racism is heavily impacting black women’s general health and reproductive health.

Policy must adjust accordingly; there needs to be comprehensive legislation that acknowledges structural racism as a factor in maternal health/mortality. Structural racism that contributes to maternal mortality includes issues of ensuring access to clean water, nutritious meals, mental health services, quality healthcare and safe communities.  It is also vital to continue to support the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion, Title X, and women’s access to reproductive health initiatives, including abortion.  Only then can we begin to ensure black women can start to have healthy pregnancies and reproductive lives.

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Links from this episode

Center for American Progress on Facebook
Center for American Progress on Twitter
Article: Black Women Disproportionately Suffer Complications of Pregnancy and Childbirth. Let’s Talk About It.
Article: Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth
Article: Exploring African Americans’ High Maternal and Infant Death Rates
Article: Maternal Mortality and the Devaluation of Black Motherhood

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Take Action!