Amnesty International Welcomes Bill to Address High Rates of Pregnancy-Related Deaths

Press Release
March 4, 2011

Amnesty International Welcomes Bill to Address High Rates of Pregnancy-Related Deaths

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Friday, March 4, 2011

Amnesty International Welcomes Bill to Address High Rates of Pregnancy-Related Deaths

For First Time, Federal Legislation Would Encourage State Examination of Pregnancy-Related Deaths and Strive to Eliminate Disparities in Maternal Health

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org

Washington, DC- Amnesty International today welcomes the introduction of groundbreaking federal legislation that would fund state boards to investigate  pregnancy-related deaths and identify effective prevention strategies to reduce overall complications and deaths. The legislation also would also help eliminate higher  risks for women of color, those  living in poverty, Native and immigrant women. H.R. 894, introduced by Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) identifies a key recommendation of Amnesty International’s comprehensive 2010 report, “Deadly Delivery” as a major step toward preventing or reducing high rates of maternal deaths in the United States, a problem that has seen no improvement in over 20 years. 

Amnesty International Executive Director Larry Cox said: “For decades the United States has shamefully ignored the tragic and often preventable deaths of women from complications during pregnancy and childbirth.  The Maternal Health Accountability Act finally is a major step toward reducing the terrible rate of deaths. Congressman Conyers and the House members who join him as co-sponsors of the bill recognize that morally we can no longer stand by and watch more and more women die needlessly.  We have neglected the health and well-being of women during pregnancy and childbirth for too long.”

“The United States is at the bottom of all industrialized countries in terms of the number of women who die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes. We can and must do better and we urge Congress to pass this life-saving legislation,” said Cox.

The Maternal Health Accountability Act, if passed, would help make improving maternal care a key priority for federal and state governments.

Rep. Conyers said: “I am very pleased to have partnered with Amnesty International and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in addressing the maternal health care crisis in the United States.  Improving maternal health care should be a key priority for our federal and local governments. In 2007, the national maternal mortality ratio was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births.  This is unacceptable and we must all join together to reduce the occurrence of maternal deaths.  It is our duty to protect the health of women and thus the overall health of our country.

The bill would provide grant funding for states to establish Maternal Mortality Review Committees to examine pregnancy-related and pregnancy-associated deaths and to identify effective strategies to reduce maternal mortality.  It will also improve data collection and establish programs to eliminate disparities in maternal health outcomes.

In addition the bill would expand programs that are shown to improve outcomes in maternal health for vulnerable groups.  This is of critical importance because, African American women are nearly four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, according to Amnesty International’s groundbreaking report in March 2010, “Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the U.S.A.” These disparities have not improved in over fifty years.

Maternal deaths are only the tip of the iceberg, with one woman suffering a “near miss” (nearly dying from pregnancy-related complications) every 15 minutes, or 34,000 women a year.  The Maternal Mortality Accountability Act would support research and develop a model for improving data collection and analysis to reduce these severe complications.

The report documented that more than two women die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, and 34,000 women each year suffer a “near miss” a complication so severe that it nearly caused death. Approximately half of these deaths and complications could be prevented if maternal health care were available, accessible and of good quality for every pregnant woman.

Calling the situation a “human rights crisis,” Amnesty International urged the U.S. government to live up to its obligation and develop a coordinated and consistent approach to maternal care that eliminates health disparities and makes sure that all women have access to quality care.  Because there is currently no robust, systematic government response to this critical problem, Amnesty International also called on the government to set up a single office within the Department of Health and Human Services to help ensure that all women can obtain timely and appropriate care during pregnancy.

In addition, the organization called on the federal government to ensure that the system is accountable, requiring nationally standardized data collection with each state reporting maternal deaths.  “The Maternal Health Accountability Act is a significant step towards achieving those goals,” said Nan Strauss, a co-author of the “Deadly Delivery” report.

The United States spends more than any other country on maternal health care and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care, but American women have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 49 other countries.