PhotoThe medical community may like to say that today’s patients have it easier than older generations, but for American women giving birth, that's simply not true.  

A new analysis by Harvard Medical School professor Neel Shah indicates that American women today are 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than their mothers were.

Shah came to that conclusion after analyzing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data. According to the federal data, the United States in 1990 recorded 17 maternal deaths for every 100,000 pregnant women in the United States. In 2015, that number jumped to 26 in 100,000.

Over the same time period, the rest of the developed world saw their maternal mortality rates drop -- making the United States the most dangerous country to give birth in in the developed world.

The United States is also the most expensive country in the world in which to give birth because of the rising cost of hospital care and private insurance.

Maternal mortality and black women

Black women bear a disproportionate burden of the maternal mortality risk. “The risk is consistently three to four times higher for black women than white women, irrespective of income or education,” Shah writes.

In Texas, the maternal mortality rate recorded for black women in 2015 was 95 in 100,000, worse than the maternal mortality rate for women in Palestine.

Last year, the site WebMD investigated the death of one black woman in Texas to show how racial bias can influence medical care. The patient, Calista Johnson, had been diagnosed with diabetes, but doctors failed to routinely monitor her blood pressure. Instead, they tested her for STDs, despite her having told them that she had been in a monogamous relationship with her husband for ten years.

Johnson was sent home shortly after giving birth and died five days later from a torn aorta.

In Johnson’s medical files, WebMD also found that a doctor incorrectly said she was “late to prenatal care,” a statement that was untrue and a known dog-whistle in the medical community.

Lack of scrutiny

The rising maternal mortality rate in the United States has made plenty of headlines over the past year, but state health authorities have shown an unwillingness to take meaningful action.

A USA Today investigation published in September found that dozens of states convened panels to investigate maternal deaths, but those panels failed to look into whether medical care may have played a role.

“At least 30 states have avoided scrutinizing medical care provided to mothers who died, or they haven’t been studying deaths at all,” the newspaper said.   

The panels instead focused on general lifestyle choices like smoking cigarettes, obesity, or failing to seek medical care -- essentially blaming the mothers, the paper said.  

With little support from medical or government officials, American women are often left to advocate for themselves. Dr. Hansa Bhargava, WebMD’s medical director, told ConsumerAffairs last year that women should take notice of any pain that worsens after giving birth.

“Everything should get better,” she said.


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