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New report shows massive racial disparities in maternal and infant health persist in US

By nearly every metric, the United States is doing very poorly when it comes to maternal and infant health.

By Lisa Needham - November 18, 2021
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A child hugs his mother.

While many states are focusing on restricting access to abortion, a safe, legal procedure, many of those same states are ignoring an actual reproductive health crisis: maternal and infant mortality. A comprehensive new study from the March of Dimes shows just how bad the problem is. 

By nearly every metric, the United States is doing very poorly when it comes to maternal and infant health. Worse, huge racial disparities exist — and are getting worse. 

Take preterm births, for example: One in 10 babies in America is born prematurely. While the number of premature births reflected in the study had dipped slightly from earlier figures overall, Black and Native people remain 60% more likely to give birth prematurely compared with their white counterparts. 

A similar trend can be seen in infant mortality. While there was a slight overall decline from 2018 to 2019, Black and Native babies are twice as likely to die before their first birthday compared with white babies. 

The March of Dimes report also found that pregnancy-related deaths doubled in the last 30 years. 

Many states that are the most aggressive about severely limiting or banning abortion, including Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, are also some of the worst places in the country to be a pregnant person. Texas has a preterm birthrate slightly higher than the nation overall, but the preterm birthrate among Black people is 41% higher than for all other people in the state.

At 12.9%, or nearly 13 births of every 100, Louisiana’s preterm birthrate is far worse than the national average. As in Texas, there’s also a vast racial gap, with the preterm birthrate for Black people coming in 55% higher than others’ in the state. Louisiana’s infant mortality rate is also much higher than the national average.

Mississippi is in even worse shape, with a preterm birthrate of 14.2% and an infant mortality rate of 9.1 per 1000 births versus 5.6 nationwide. Black people are 44% more likely to have a preterm birth than other people in the state. 

What all three of these states have in common is that they fail to fund initiatives that would ensure better birth results.  Louisiana refused an expansion of Medicaid that would have provided up to one year of post-birth care rather than the current 60 days. Texas refused the Medicaid expansion that would have provided coverage for low-income individuals during pregnancy, giving them increased access to health care. Mississippi refused both.

What those three states also have in common is that they are the vanguard in implementing of some of the harshest anti-abortion restrictions in the country. Mississippi’s previability 15-week ban is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Texas currently has a six-week ban in place, one that comes with a bounty-hunter-style enforcement mechanism. A Louisiana abortion restriction that required providers to have hospital admitting privileges, among other things, and would have led to only one facility in the state being able to perform abortions, was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2020.

What the March of Dimes study makes clear is that infant and maternal health in the United States as a whole is at a crisis level and that racial inequities persist across the country. As states continue to pursue abortion restrictions rather than ensure the safety of those who give birth and their children, this crisis can be expected to persist. 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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