The Twin Demons of Maternal Mortality and Femicide

If the Supreme Court decides to allow domestic abusers to own guns, Black women and other women of color—who already face higher rates of pregnancy-related death—will pay the highest price.

Yasmine-Imani McMorrin—the first African American woman elected to the Culver City City Council—attends a rally against gun violence on June 11 2022, in Los Angeles, California. (Citizen of the Planet / UCG / Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It’s no secret that gun violence is pervasive in the U.S. But, its intersections with gender-based violence and its specific impact on Black communities must be brought to light—especially as the Supreme Court considers whether domestic abusers can legally possess firearms.

Gender-based violence is a huge problem in the U.S., and guns are at the heart of it.

Femicide and other harmful gender-based harms are embedded in American culture—not unlike guns, according to a new report from the Population Institute.

When men kill women, deep-rooted, toxic patriarchal norms are often a driving force.

Homicide is currently the leading cause of death for pregnant and postpartum people, including Black women who face disproportionate rates of maternal mortality.

  • In 2021, Black women experienced 69.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 26.6 deaths for non-Hispanic white women.
  • Firearms accounted for 81 percent of homicides of pregnant women in 2020; 55 percent of these homicide victims were Black.
  • Studies have shown that many of these killers have a history of domestic violence and women often struggle to get away from abusive partners, especially when tied to them through pregnancy and/or children.

As access to reproductive healthcare is increasingly restricted across the U.S., pregnant people have fewer and fewer rights, while their abusers may soon have a deadly one: A landmark case, United States v. Rahimi, will be decided by the Supreme Court any day now, and the outcome will determine whether a federal ban on owning firearms for people who have protective orders against them is constitutional. If overturned, the law would no longer prevent domestic abusers from possessing deadly weapons at a time when reproductive rights are under attack and gender-based violence is on the rise

Black women in the U.S. face a unique double-bind when it comes to maternal mortality and femicide. They lack quality, anti-racist medical care, as well as the resources and social and legal support to leave and be safe from their abusers.

The U.S. has a long history of denying Black women reproductive freedoms from forced sterilization to legalized rape and forced birth.

The decision the Supreme Court makes in the Rahimi case will have real-life consequences for women, especially Black women and other women of color.

Countless heart-wrenching tales of real-life victims plague American history.

It’s clear that America’s pattern of choosing the rights of angry men over women’s reproductive rights must end.

Black maternal health isn’t just about perinatal care; it intersects with racial and reproductive justice, and it’s part of the nexus of gun violence and domestic violence. Focusing on this intersection should drive overwhelming support from both reproductive and racial justice communities working toward solutions. 

Black pregnant people deserve to be protected—whether their pregnancies are intended or unintended, whether they choose to carry to term or not, and whether they choose to stay with their partners or leave. But the specter of gun violence looms large over them. We owe it to them to grapple with the twin demons of maternal mortality and femicide until these threats are ended.

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Amani Nelson is a research fellow at the Population Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that supports reproductive health and rights.