What Does the Maternal Health Care Crisis Look Like in the U.S.?

A new infrographic from Amnesty International shows that low-income and women of color are more likely to die from pregnancy related causes.

By Asraa Mustufa Jun 02, 2011

Amnesty International recently released a maternal health graphic, bringing attention to the country’s maternal health care crisis, as well as legislative developments in the last year that could signal some progress on the issue. 

It shows that despite spending more money per capita on healthcare than any other country, we rank 50th in the world for our maternal mortality ratios. To make matter worse, while care for childbearing women and newborns is the number one reason for hospitalization in the U.S., preventable deaths of both newborns and mothers in relation to childbirth are alarmingly high, especially for women of color. 

Amnesty International found that African American women are 3 to 4 times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women. Maternal mortality ratios are especially high for black, American Indian/Alaska Native and Asian/Pacific Islander mothers. However, no racial or ethnic group met the government’s Healthy People 2010 goal for reducing maternal mortality – in fact, the ratios were all 2 and a half times higher.

Miriam Zoila Pérez previously reported for Colorlines on the industry-driven shift over the years to American women giving birth almost exclusively in hospitals, and the cost, health, safety, and access concerns this system has engendered, especially for women of color and those without resources. Pérez outlined the benefits of the alternative of home birth, and legislation that would make the option of home birth more accessible for those covered by Medicaid.

So why are moms of color dying in such high numbers in the U.S.? The reasons are varied: Aside from the issues of high costs and insurance coverage, lack of access also makes women of color more likely to die from pregnancy related causes. A shortage of health care professionals in the U.S., particularly specialists for women, creates a serious obstacle to timely and adequate maternal healthcare, especially for those in rural areas and in inner cities. Gaps in family planning is also a major factor. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and rates are significantly higher for low-income and communities of color. Such pregnancies are more likely to develop complications and face worse outcomes for both mother and child. 

This year’s federal budget cuts do not bode well for maternal health prospects on either of these fronts. There was a $317.5 million cut to family planning, and a $1 billion cut to community health centers – a crucial source of care and access to low income and communities of color  –and medically under-served areas.

Take a look at Amnesty International’s infographic below: