Black Women Demand Action on Black Maternal Health Crisis

This post originally appeared on In Our Own Voice. It has been republished with permission.

“When it comes to our health,” writes Howell, “Black women suffer from the double-edged sword of racism and sexism baked into the healthcare industry.” Pictured: Washington DC, September 30, 2017, where thousands participated in two marches, The March for Racial Justice and The March for Black Women.

This week is Black Maternal Health Week (April 11 –17, 2020).

Across all socio-economic and geographic lines, Black women in the U.S. are three to five times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than their white counterparts.

This is not only a public health crisis but a moral one as well—one that requires our elected leaders and public health officials to examine the many structural and systemic factors that contribute to poor maternal health outcomes for Black women and birthing people, while centering the leadership of Black mothers and women to address and eliminate these disparities.

When it comes to our health, Black women suffer from the double-edged sword of racism and sexism baked into the healthcare industry.

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Women are less likely to be taken seriously by health care professionals, as symptoms like chronic pain, when presented by a female patient, are often abruptly dismissed as manifestations of a psychological issue.

As Black women, healthcare professionals not only ignore us when we need help but, in the past, experimented on us while searching for cures.

Indeed, the entire field of gynecology was birthed against our will on the backs and broken bodies of Black women.

Recently, the structural racial inequities in our health care system were thrown into stark relief as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as several states and municipalities, began reporting racial data on COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The data reveal an alarming portrait of just how vastly disproportionate the devastating impacts of the virus have been for the Black community—with states like Louisiana, for example, reporting that although Black people constitute only a third of the population, roughly 70 percent of the state’s coronavirus deaths were Black men and women.

These statistics make an incontrovertible case for what we already know: While the coronavirus may not discriminate, the pandemic and resulting public health crisis have both spotlighted and compounded the racial disparities created by our inequitable, discriminatory and often exclusionary health care system.

To fix the problem of Black maternal deaths, we must listen to Black women and take immediate action.

We call on Congress to pass the latest and most ambitious piece of legislation introduced by the Black Maternal Health Caucus: the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-moving. During this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


Marcela Howell is the founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda and the former senior policy and communications consultant for Communications Consortium Media Center and vice president of policy, communications and marketing at Advocates for Youth. She has a master's in literature from Saint Louis University and a J.D. from Pepperdine School of Law. You can follow Marcela on Twitter at @BlackWomensRJ.