You are currently viewing Black women fear that ever-increasing restrictions on abortion in the United States will worsen the maternal health crisis

Black women fear that ever-increasing restrictions on abortion in the United States will worsen the maternal health crisis

By Maya Brown, CNN

Mckayla Wilkes recalls repeatedly complaining to her doctors of shortness of breath throughout her pregnancy seven years ago.

But she says no one listened. Her concerns were consistently dismissed or downplayed while she was pregnant with her daughter, Madison, who is now 6.

After initially being told it was asthma, Wilkes sought a second opinion, refusing to go home. She was later diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis and remained hospitalized for another two weeks.

The 31-year-old mother-of-two says her pain was not taken seriously. “It really felt like my life as a black woman and a black mother didn’t matter to everyone,” Wilkes said.

Despite the setbacks, Wilkes was able to carry her child to term. But her experience during pregnancy highlights a stark inequality in the way black women are treated in health care settings. And it’s an injustice that will likely be exacerbated by the recent wave of state abortion laws, maternal health care advocates fear.

Near-total abortion bans have been introduced in 30 states this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a near-total abortion ban into law last week, making it illegal to perform an abortion except in a medical emergency. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also signed an anti-abortion measure that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The Oklahoma and Florida bills are just the latest examples of the steady increase in restrictive measures in the United States limiting women’s access to abortion, especially for black women, who are five times more likely to have an abortion than white women.

Maternal health crisis

Experts say there are a variety of factors that make black women more likely to seek abortions, including unequal access to housing, education, employment and health care.

Health care advocates say they fear the attack on abortion rights will create additional risks for black mothers in what was already nothing short of a maternal health crisis.

Black women who are pregnant or have just given birth in the United States are three to four times more likely to die than their white counterparts, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Century Foundation found that for every 100,000 live births, about 19 white mothers die, while about 55 black mothers die, revealing a stark disparity in the United States.

The disparity is rooted in the lack of access to quality healthcare for many black women and the biases implicit in medical treatment as well as a range of maternal health complications, according to Century Foundation Fellow Anna Bernstein. .

Last year, advocates warned that banning abortion would disproportionately impact black women who would be forced to carry their pregnancies to term despite potential health risks and would have few options. for abortion care if they could not afford to travel out of state. for the procedure or raising a child.

The concern had been raised by lawmakers such as Rep. Cori Bush, who shared her personal abortion experience after she was raped and became pregnant as a teenager.

Bush recalls feeling she couldn’t raise a child at 18 and said she was discriminated against when she sought health care for her pregnancy.

“To all black women and girls who have had or are about to have abortions, we have nothing to be ashamed of. We live in a society that has failed to legislate love and justice for us. So we deserve better. We demand better. We deserve better,” the Missouri congresswoman said. “That’s why I’m here to tell my story.”

So what if fewer abortions can be performed?

A study published last year in the journal Demography focused on the effect of a total abortion ban on pregnancy-related mortality. The study found that banning abortion nationwide would lead to a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths for all women and a 33% increase for black women.

The study also found that refusing all desired induced abortions would increase the lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes from 1 in 1,300 to 1 in 1,000 among black women.

Report author Amanda Stevenson, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, told CNN she cried when the study ended, concluding that more black women would die as a result of a ban. total abortion.

Abortion bans are a ‘compounded tragedy’

“To be killed at such a hopeful moment in someone’s life is such a tragedy and to be killed because of a pregnancy that you would terminate if you could only makes the tragedy worse,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson believes that structural racism is one of the main causes of racial inequalities in maternal mortality and morbidity rates in the United States. And experts say black women are more likely to seek abortions because of wider inequality in society at large – a vicious circle.

“How people end up wanting to end a pregnancy is shaped by structural inequalities in access, (in) the ability to plan your reproductive life,” Stevenson told CNN. “But that is shaped by his experience with racism.”

She added that while there is concern about recipient doctors being racist or other issues, that is “not something white people should be concerned about”.

“Listen to Black Women”

The Black Mamas Matter Alliance, a nonprofit organization, is trying to change the culture around black maternal health and justice. Since 2016, the black women-led network has been engaged in research and community outreach, said Angela Aina, the executive director. As part of their efforts, they created Black Maternal Health Week, which runs from April 11-17 and was recognized by the White House in April last year.

This week, Rep. Alma Adams, Rep. Lauren Underwood and Senator Cory Booker introduced complementary resolutions to Congress recognizing Black Maternal Health Week. In a joint statement, lawmakers said the goal was “to draw national attention to the maternal health crisis in the United States and the urgent importance of reducing maternal mortality and morbidity among women.” black people and people who give birth”.

During a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities of improving black maternal health, actress Jazmyn Simon shared her story of being prejudiced when she was fresh out of college and pregnant.

She remembers a white doctor assuming she was promiscuous, and she overheard him saying he had swabbed her for STDs. Simon says she was confused because she only had one boyfriend.

“His prejudice against me made him see me in a different light because I was young, poor and black. … We need to teach doctors to treat everyone the same.

Aina from the Black Mamas Matter Alliance often hears stories from black women about how their concerns are minimized when they seek care or experience symptoms of distress and pain during pregnancy. She said black mothers are often ignored or have no access to a doctor when they need care. She fears things will get worse as abortion restrictions increase in the United States.

“We know how deadly it can be when you don’t listen to black women when they say they are in pain and need care,” she said.

She said black women, and pregnant black women in particular, “are always devalued.”

Aina said continued restrictions on abortion will lead to increased black maternal mortality and may also lead to negative health outcomes for infants. She said the Black Mamas Matter Alliance is pushing for a national movement around comprehensive policies at the state and federal levels to protect maternal health care.

“There’s a real negative narrative around black women, black girls, and black motherhood that really shapes a lot of the ways black people giving birth in general are treated in the healthcare system,” Aina said. “We want change and we want to see an end to maternal mortality.”

The most recent bans or restrictions on abortion are part of a history of limiting reproductive freedom.

Breana Lipscomb, senior adviser for maternal health and rights at the Center for Reproductive Rights, told CNN that the various abortion restrictions in the United States are part of a larger, targeted effort that has been going on for decades. since Roe v. Wade Supreme Court. case in 1973.

“Black women have long been subjected to reproductive coercion in this country,” Lipscomb said. “The way forward is not to double down on government coercion in personal health decisions, but rather to ensure that everyone has the freedom to procreate.”

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