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  • Kay Khan

Racial Disparities in Maternal Health

Having a baby in the United States can be dangerous, particularly for women of color.

American women die more frequently from complications of childbirth than women in any other industrialized nation in the word. While other countries’ maternal death rates have declined, U.S. rates have risen steadily since 2000.


Even with our world-class hospitals and health care system, Massachusetts has not been immune to this alarming trend. Maternal mortality rates in our state increased 33% between 2012 and 2014.


Racial disparities in maternal mortality are staggering, with Black women and American Indian women experiencing mortality rates three times and two and a half times greater, respectively, than White women. Research has shown that these disparities persist, even when controlling for factors like income, prenatal care, and maternal age. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 60% of these deaths are preventable. It is clear that to understand why racial disparities in maternal mortality persist, more public health research and prevention is needed.


This is why I filed H.1949/S.1334, An Act to reduce racial disparities in maternal health alongside Representative Liz Miranda and Senator Rebecca L. Rausch. It would establish a special commission charged with examining the extent to which health care access, and implicit bias, racism, and discrimination contribute to the risk factors associated with maternal death for communities of color. The Commission would then make concrete policy recommendations to help the Commonwealth address racial disparities and reverse the trend in maternal mortality. By collecting data and conducting studies with a specific focus on addressing racial disparities across the state, this special commission can expand upon the work the Massachusetts Mortality and Morbidity Initiative.


In its current form, this legislation is written to address disparities in maternal mortality only. I would like to iterate my support for the inclusion of language to also address Maternal Morbidity. Nationally, black women are twice as likely to experience Severe Maternal Morbidity than white women.


It should not be more dangerous for 21st century women to give birth than when their grandmothers delivered many decades ago. The tragic, preventable deaths of mothers of color represent systemic failures in our health care system. The Commonwealth absolutely must do more to address this public health crisis.

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