Mother’s Rights are Human Rights
Do you know how many women in the United States die every day from pregnancy-related reasons? The answer is shocking: two or more. This rate has actually increased since 1987. A new Amnesty International report, “Deadly Delivery: the Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA,” calls it a human rights crisis and explores the reasons behind this travesty.
According to the report, the answer isn’t a lack of money. The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country in the world. It’s not lack of access to technology—one reason our health care costs are so high is because of the stunning array of tests and interventions available. And it’s certainly not the unavoidable risks of being pregnant and giving birth. Amnesty cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in reporting that approximately half of all maternal deaths in the USA are preventable.
As in other areas of health care, problems in maternity care do not affect all women equally. African American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women—a rate that has not changed for 20 years. The government’s Healthy People 2010 goals state that by 2010, our maternal death rate should be 4.3 per 100,000 live births. In 2006, the number of mothers dying was 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births. “Only five states have achieved the 2010 goal: Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont,” Amnesty reports. “In some areas ratios are significantly higher: in Georgia it is 20.5; in Washington, D.C., 34.9; and in New York City the ratio for black women is 83.6 per 100,000 live births” (http://www.amnestyusa.org/dignity/pdf/DeadlyDelivery.pdf, p. 4).
Women in the U.S., particularly women of color, are simply not getting access to the services they need. The reasons are multifaceted: Amnesty cites discrimination, financial, bureaucratic and language barriers to care, and inadequate staffing, among other reasons. One particularly glaring failing is the U.S.’ total lack of federal requirements to report maternal deaths. While some states have their own maternal mortality review processes, 29 states and the District of Columbia have absolutely none. Without this, there is no way to know how big the maternal care crisis actually is—or how to comprehensively address the crisis. As Amnesty writes, “the authorities concede that the number of maternal deaths may be twice as high” (p. 4).
In the absence of federal guidelines and protocols for maternal health care, it is still possible to draw some conclusions about how we might improve outcomes. The top reason for maternal death—responsible for 20% of mortalities—is embolism: a blood clot blocking an essential vessel. Women who deliver by Cesarean section are more likely to form blood clots, which can travel from their legs to their lungs or brains, causing death. It is one of the reasons that three times as many women die after C-sections than after vaginal birth.
If health care providers could learn how to use the technology available more judiciously, and provide an atmosphere truly supportive of women’s choices and their bodies’ natural abilities to birth, there would be fewer mothers dying. Debra, who was interviewed for Amnesty’s report, points out: “The US has the least amount of available options as compared to other industrialized countries. We spend the most money, but we don’t have tubs, birthing balls, ropes, available for women giving birth. There are so many non-pharmacological techniques, that make it more comfortable and safer, but we don’t use them” (p. 81).
Why do you think that care providers don’t make greater use of the non-pharmacological techniques available to them, even though this would improve outcomes and reduce the number of maternal deaths? Do you think that change will happen more quickly through government investigation and oversight—or through pressure from the public on our care providers and hospitals?
To read Amnesty’s summary report and suggestions on what you can do to change things, click here:
To read Amnesty’s full report, click here:
Time Magazine article about the report: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1971633,00.html
For more information about maternal mortality in the U.S., visit the Safe Motherhood Quilt Project: http://www.rememberthemothers.net/