By: Briana Simmons, Media & Communications Co-Coordinator & an ICTC student doula
All the processes leading to pregnancy, from maturation of the reproductive organs during puberty for males and females, to menstruation, and sex, are normal experiences within the life cycles of many. Yet, puberty is rarely fully explained, menstruation is “taboo” and well does sex education exist anymore? To make matters worse, women and their babies are still dying from preventable causes during or shortly after childbirth.
About 99% of maternal deaths occur in the “developing” world with a maternal mortality ratio (MMR) in 2015 at 239 per 100,000 live births versus 12 per 100,000 in “developed” countries.
The U.S. spends the most on pregnancy and childbirth, but women still have a greater risk of dying to pregnancy related complications than women in 40 other countries, according to Amnesty International. Within the U.S. race increases the likelihood of disparities in pregnancy outcomes no matter educational or economic status.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, the 2011-2012 the pregnancy-related mortality ratios were 11.8 per 100,000 live births for white women, 41.1 for black women and 15.7 for women of other races. It’s not surprising then that in a global context those dying from or losing their babies to childbirth are melanated people facing multiple layers of oppression.
Furthermore, prematurity and low-birth weight are the main causes of infant mortality and black families are four times more likely to be affected than non-Hispanic white families.
From a human rights perspective, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals of 2015 failed to reduce the overall MMR by three- quarters. A primary goal of the Sustainable Development Goals, established in 2016, is to reduce the MMR to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030.
The rate at which mothers die giving birth is the greatest indicator of overall health for a nation. However, in Amnesty International’s 2010 Deadly Delivery report it states that there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths in the U.S. and the figures may be twice as high.
The revision of U.S. death certificates in 2003 is expected to be adopted in all states by 2016. It would expand the set of questions to help identify a deceased woman’s pregnancy status at the time of death, but clear definitions and uniform requirements for all states are still unclear.
Reproductive Rights or Reproductive Justice?
In order to alleviate the disparities affecting black families, maternal and infant mortality must be addressed using a reproductive justice framework that accounts for the overall health of women of color.
A simple Google search will illuminate the differences in rhetoric and action of reproductive rights and reproductive justice, but the main differences lie in the overall objectives of each movement.
Just as women of color could find no place in the feminist movement, the reproductive rights movement held a limited pro-choice framework that did not suit to also protect the needs and rights of women of color who had an equally difficult chance of having their children the way they wanted and raising them in an environment free of violence. That is what the reproductive justice movement sought to do. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, women of color including Loretta Ross, noticed that internationally women were framing their needs using a human rights framework that incorporated all types of injustices inhibiting a woman’s bodily integrity.
The International Center for Traditional Childbearing (ICTC) is a nonprofit working to reduce infant mortality, increase the number of birth workers of color, and improve overall birth satisfaction.
Shafia Monroe, President and Founder of ICTC said “To be born full-term and see a 1st birthday is a social justice issue.”
As an issue of social justice, maternal and infant mortality, must be addressed by taking into consideration the issue in its totality. Here are three suggestions:
- Increasing the number of and access to black midwives and doulas to meet the needs of their respective communities has a significant impact on the birth outcomes and experiences for black families.
- Prioritizing preconception lifestyle changes to reduce exposure to health risks and addressing the accumulation of stress throughout your life course, also known as chronic stress, affecting women of color due to societal factors such as discrimination and isolation.
- Implementing a reproductive justice model can create improvements in these categories: increasing access to information about sexuality and sexual health, eliminating discrimination in the health care system, increasing access to sexual and reproductive health care, and/or improving quality of sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Attributions to the photo found here.
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