By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern
A report published by Amnesty International this month describes the dire situation of maternal health in the United States. According to this report, approximately half of the maternal deaths that occur in the US are easily preventable by access to quality maternal health care. This report goes hand in hand with the New York times report of the extremely high rates of cesarean section and induction of labor.
Some key facts from the Amnesty report:
- Maternal mortality rate in the US has more than doubled in the period between 1987 and 2006;
- Women in the US have a higher risk of dying from pregnancy related causes than women in 40 other countries, despite the fact that the US spends more on health care than any other country in the world;
- African-American women are almost four times as likely as white women in the US to die of pregnancy-related complications.
In order to lower the risk of maternal deaths, women need access to quality prenatal care, care during delivery, and postpartum care. There are many barriers to accessing quality care. The first is the overwhelming number of Americans who are uninsured. Many women are unable to take time off from work, find transportation, or find childcare. Additionally, immigrant women are often unable to find healthcare services or information in languages other than English.Nearly half of all pregnancies in the US are unintended, which significantly increases risk of complications during and after pregnancy. Inadequate spacing of pregnancies also poses a risk to maternal health. A disproportional number of unintended pregnancies are to low-income women and women of color. Many women lack access to adequate family planning services. Increasing access to adequate maternal health care for Latinas is a key issue for NLIRH. Our white paper on healthy pregnancies has more on the issue.
With the recent passing of health care reform, we hope that the dire situation of maternal healthcare will improve. There are many provisions in the new bill that are intended to improve maternal care. The first is the increase in insurance coverage. The bill makes it easier for many women to get affordable insurance by eliminating discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, which used to include pregnancy, c-sections, and even domestic violence in some states. Additionally, it improves maternal health care and access to contraception for women under Medicaid. Women can stay under their parents insurance plan until the age of 26. It also improves the system of measuring and reporting maternal health outcomes, which can lead to improved understanding of the causes behind maternal mortality.
However, the executive order issued by President Obama extends the restrictions of the Hyde Amendment to the new health care plan, preventing women from accessing affordable abortion services. The bill also purposefully leaves out undocumented immigrants and increases funding for abstinence-only educational programs.
Overall, though not perfect, the proposed health care reform does advance the cause of reproductive justice. Passing the bill is only the first step towards improved maternal health. As is clear from the delay in changing policies on emergency contraception, a law is only as successful as its timely enforcement.
By Zarah Iqbal, Policy Intern