In the United States, maternal mortality rates continue to rise, even though the U.S. spends more per person on healthcare than any other country. Black women, in particular, are at a much higher risk of maternal morbidity and mortality than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control, Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.
Before we continue, we want to name and acknowledge that Black people of all genders face systemic racism and barriers to receiving quality, and even competent, care. For the purposes of this post, we are leaning on existing research around pregnancy-related mortality in Black folks that specifically refers to Black women and maternal mortality rates. This language does not hold space for the fact that not all pregnant people identify as female. When we are not citing specific research, we will utilize more inclusive language.
There are several factors that contribute to the disparities we see in pregnancy-related mortality rates, including racism, sexism, and other systemic issues, which we will explore to deepen our understanding. These systemic issues have prevented Black folks from accessing the same level of healthcare and education as other groups. In addition to barriers to accessing care, the U.S. healthcare system has a history of mistreating Black folks which have, rightfully, eroded trust in the system.
Income inequality is an area where we see racism and sexism converge, and those living at the intersections, including Black women, suffering the consequences. The National Partnership Organization found that “Black women are typically paid just 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.” Less money and fewer resources can impact access to quality contraceptive, reproductive, and prenatal care, which are all factors in healthy pregnancies and births.
While there are many social determinants that impact our physical and emotional health, the National Partnership Organization summarized two key pieces of research that show us how much racial bias and discrimination contribute to the rate of Black maternal deaths.
- “Black women are more likely to experience preventable maternal death compared with white women.”
- “Black women’s heightened risk of pregnancy-related death spans income and education levels.”
This offers that it is not strictly income inequality or access to healthcare that prevents Black folks who are pregnant from receiving proper reproductive care. It is also racism inherent to the way these systems were built, and the racial biases of individuals working within the system, like us as sex educators, that go unchecked.
It’s worth noting that the racial disparities seen in pregnancy-related mortality rates in the U.S. are not unique. The Center for Disease Control has cited similar disparities with COVID-19, cardiovascular conditions, and hypertension, all of which leave folks vulnerable to more health issues. (To exemplify how these inequities compound, we also want to note that high blood pressure and heart problems can be detrimental to a person’s ability to have a healthy pregnancy.) It’s also important to note, as the CDC does, that these conditions do not appear out of nowhere; they are also influenced by social and structural inequities that Black folks face.
So how does this information impact what we do as educators?
As sex educators, we have a responsibility to provide comprehensive sex education, which includes building a safe and inclusive learning environment and taking into account the different ways we each experience health care systems in the US.
As individuals working in sexual health education, we must continually reflect on our own biases commit to anti-racist teaching to help dismantle white supremacy. For more information, you can read from the American Medical Association or the statistical review done by the Journal of Perinatal Education about the racial disparities in pregnancy-related mortality rates. To help end the disparities in pregnancy-related outcomes among Black folks, we encourage you to support the work of organizations like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.