It’s Now Nearly 20% Less Safe to Give Birth in the US

The death rate among Black pregnant people is three times the rate for white pregnant people.

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A pregnant person reclines on a bench.
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The rate of maternal mortality in the United States increased by nearly 20% from 2019 to 2020, a new federal report shows. While mortality rates have increased everywhere, likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the death rate among Black pregnant people is three times the rate for white pregnant people.

According to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the maternal mortality rate rose from 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births to 23.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2020. This number is startling, especially when compared to the 2018 rate, which was at 17.4 deaths for every 100,000 live births.

These numbers are based on national death data from the CDC’s National Vital Statistics System. Maternal death is defined as the pregnant person dying either while pregnant or within 42 days following pregnancy. “Deaths from accidental or incidental causes are not included,” the site explains.

“Rates for non-Hispanic Black women were significantly higher than rates for non-Hispanic White and Hispanic women,” Donna Hoyert of the CDC’s Division of Vital Statistics wrote in the new report. “The increases from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women were significant. The observed increase from 2019 to 2020 for non-Hispanic White women was not significant.”

The report shows that in 2020, Black pregnant people had a rate of 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, which is 2.9 times the rate for white pregnant people.

The United States has a uniquely poor maternal mortality rate to begin with, and experts suspect that the COVID-19 crisis has made these numbers worse. The pandemic has led to disrupted maternal health care, COVID-19 infection during pregnancy, and an increase in mental health issues.

The rates of death increasing are horrifying. There is one solution that could help decrease these growth rates, and it’s already been proposed in the American Rescue Plan with a provision for states to extend Medicaid coverage for new mothers, offering a year of coverage instead of the standard 60 days. Only one state, Illinois, has done this so far, but other states have the option to adopt the policy and help save the lives of people who are pregnant or have recently given birth.

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