The maternal mortality rate in the US is much higher than in other affluent countries, and a ProPublica story examines a major reason why: Black women in particular die far more often—at three or four times the rate—than white women in or after childbirth. Here is one way the story frames it: "A black woman is 22% more likely to die from heart disease than a white woman, 71% more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 300% more likely to die from pregnancy- or childbirth-related causes," write Nina Martin and Renee Montagne. In fact, US black women who are expecting or have recently delivered die at the same rate as such women in countries such as Mexico and Uzbekistan. The reasons are complex, but one prevailing view is that a systemic bias against black women is at play within the medical community.
For example, "the nursing culture is white, middle-class, and female, so is largely built around that identity," says a former nurse who has experienced this "cultural divide" as a professional and a patient. "Anything that doesn't fit that identity is suspect." The story illustrates the gap through the story of Shalon Irving, an African-American woman who died at 36 three weeks after giving birth. One wrenching irony is that Irving was a CDC epidemiologist studying racial inequities in the health system. That she was relatively well off didn't save her. That "tells you that you can’t educate your way out of this problem," says Raegan McDonald-Mosley, a friend who is chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "There's something inherently wrong with the system that's not valuing the lives of black women equally to white women." Read the full story.