We Need To Stop Pretending To Be Shocked By The U.S. Maternal Death Rate

by Maria Guido
Originally Published: 

There’s a reason the U.S. has the most maternal deaths in the developed world

We’re so used to programs and services absolutely essential for women’s health being cut or debated by a bunch of men that would never need said services, that we may be growing immune to the imminent threat to our health and livelihoods.

This is a deadly mistake.

If 2017 has taught us anything, it’s that the predominantly Republican men littering the House and the Senate are not looking out for us. This is not an abstract fight; we have actual statistics to point to that show the less we care about protecting essential health services for women — the more they die.

Let’s look at Texas; a state with the worst track record of supporting women’s health services. “In 2011, the Republican-controlled Texas legislature voted to cut funding for family planning, well women care, cancer screenings and care for sexually transmitted infections by 66 percent,” Wendy Davis writes for Motto. “That action resulted in the closing of 82 clinics— only about one-third of which were affiliated with Planned Parenthood — and left the women they served with little or no alternatives.” Since that devastating vote, the Texas maternal mortality rate doubled.

As of now, Medicaid in Texas only covers mothers 60 days post delivery. A special task force assigned to figure out why these maternal death rates are so high has recommended the coverage extend to a year post-delivery. Imagine what will happen if Medicaid is gutted, a plan Republicans are chomping at the bit to execute?

Medicaid is the most misunderstood program in this country, probably thanks in part to a long-held stereotype that anyone who relies on welfare or Medicaid is lazy, unmotivated, unemployed, and looking for handouts. But the fact is, that nearly 1 in 5 Americans are on Medicaid — it covers more than one-third of the nation’s children and pays for half of all births. Half of all births. The Affordable Care Act understands how important it is for all women to have access to care during pregnancy — and that their children are cared for as well. So children and pregnant women whose household incomes are higher than the federal thresholds are eligible for Medicaid. This is a good thing — unless you happen to believe pregnant women and children should be uninsured.

Texas is a perfect example of what happens when states refuse to expand Medicaid and force women off Medicaid two months after they’ve given birth — women die. Six-hundred women died of pregnancy related causes between 2010 and 2014 in Texas. When we hear that the U.S. has the highest maternal death rate in the developed world, we gasp and think, “How could this be?” It’s simple. When we don’t give a shit about women or the programs they need to survive, they die. It’s not a difficult concept. If you are pushing for the demolition of Medicaid and the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, you are signing more death certificates for pregnant women and women who need postpartum care. Period.

NPR and ProPublica worked together on a six-month long investigation on maternal mortality in the U.S., and their results are jarring: “More American women are dying of pregnancy-related complications than any other developed country. Only in the U.S. has the rate of women who die been rising.” They took on the sobering task of attempting to track down the 700-900 women who died of pregnancy related complications in 2016. They found 120 of them, and compiled their stories. These women were you and I: loving mothers, excited expectant parents, professionals, friends.

“The inability, or unwillingness, of states and the federal government to track maternal deaths has been called ‘an international embarrassment.’ To help fill this gap, ProPublica and NPR have spent the last few months searching social media and other sources for mothers who died, trying to understand what happened to them and why,” the report writes. “Their ages ranged from 16 to 43… We were struck by how many perished in the postpartum period, by the number of heart-related deaths, by the contributing role sometimes played by severe depression and mood disorders — and by the many missed opportunities to save lives.”

How do we protect women and children? If you have Medicaid in your state — do everything in your power to keep it. Write your representatives, call your Senators, and make your voices heard. Push for Medicaid to cover mothers a full year after the birth of their children; 60% of these deaths occur after six weeks postpartum. “Fight, with everything you’ve got,” advises Davis. Call your lawmakers to make it clear just how devastating such legislation will be to you and your family. But mostly, understand that a program that helps pregnant women, children, the disabled, and the elderly is not the tax-sucking behemoth your Republican senator may be making it out to be. If we cannot care for our most vulnerable citizens — who are we? And if we don’t make moves to protect them, we can never shake our heads at such staggering statistics as the maternal mortality rate in this country and ask, “Why?”

We know why. We’re just not doing enough to turn it around.

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