The rise of maternal mortality in the United States


According to new research out of Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation the at the University of Washington, over the past 20 years maternal mortality rates have risen in the United States—making it only one of eight countries, and the only developed nation, to see its rates increase. The United States now ranks 60th overall and below every developed nation in the world with 18.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (up from 12.4 in 1990).

What has caused this increase? There’s a few different factors at play. The jump could partially be explained by a rise in reporting and increased accuracy from computerized records. But while causes of death such as hemorrhage, infection, and miscarriage have decreased, the real threats have come from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and kidney problems, among others. And the common denominator that seems to explain the results of this study is primarily our country’s problem with accessing health care.

One in five women who are of reproductive age does not have access to health care. "In all the other industrialized democracies — every woman has access to free or low-cost medical treatment," reporter T.R. Reid, author of The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care said. "As of May 2014, we have about 40 million people without health insurance; half are women. Those women can't afford the pre-natal care that would keep them and their babies healthy after delivery. Thousands of times every month in the U.S.A., women show up at an emergency room nine months pregnant, seven cm. dilated, and they've never had a pre-natal visit. Those are the women and babies we lose after childbirth."

Access to health care is a justice issue, and it’s one that should be critically important for all those concerned with protecting human life.


Image: iStock

About the author

Elizabeth Lefebvre

Elizabeth Lefebvre is a writer living in Chicago.