On March 12, 2010, we released Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Crisis in the USA, our groundbreaking report on maternal health in the United States. Deadly Delivery lays out a clear case for the ways in which the U.S. health system is broken, and how we can fix it to fulfill the right of all women to maternal health.
One of the most shocking facts, illustrated in this map, is that the numbers vary immensely from state to state. A woman in Washington, DC, is almost 30 times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy or childbirth than a woman in Maine. Maine is one of only five states (the others being Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont) that have met the Healthy People 2010 goal of 4.3 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Most states’ ratios are far above that, and maternal health statistics in the USA have not improved in 20 years.
Inequalities abound. Amnesty International researchers found that women in the United States faced barriers to quality health care that included discrimination, language barriers, cost, bureaucratic hurdles, shortages of health care providers, and a lack of standardized national protocols to prevent and respond to life-threatening complications. Women of color are disproportionately affected, as are rural women, women in the inner cities, and women who do not speak English. African American women are nearly four times more likely to die of pregnancy- or childbirth-related complications than white women.
With a map like the one above, some of these disparities become immediately apparent. With such blatant inequalities from state to state, the United States needs better coordination and accountability on maternal health at the national level.
That’s why Amnesty International is calling on Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and President Obama to create an Office of Maternal Health in the Department of Health and Human Services. The office would ensure comprehensive data collection and effective nationwide review; ensure access to timely prenatal care; issue evidence-based protocols to prevent, recognize and respond to the leading pregnancy complications; encourage home visits after childbirth; vigorously enforce federal nondiscrimination laws; and recommend regulatory and legislative changes to ensure quality maternal care for all women.