Systemic racism and state laws restricting access to family planning and abortion are contributing to the continual increase in rates of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States, according to researchers.
However, for Black or Hispanic women, U.S. death rates from pregnancy are three to four times higher than for white females, and while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some 700 women die each year from pregnancy complications, most of those deaths — three out of five — could have been prevented.
Racism disproportionately affects the quality of care mothers receive during childbirth. For example, research has shown that implicit racial bias may cause doctors to spend less time with Black patients and that Black people receive less effective care. Providers are also more likely to underestimate the pain of their Black patients, ignore their symptoms, or dismiss their complaints.
For example, the day after giving birth, tennis star Serena Williams felt short of breath. Knowing her body and her history of developing blood clots in her lungs, she told her health care providers that she was having trouble breathing.
They initially ignored her concerns, chalking it up to the medication Williams was on, saying it was making her confused. Williams was eventually able to insist that her providers give her the care she needed, which saved her life.