New report calls on US to address racial discrimination in health care system

Screen Shot 2014-08-13 at 1.40.02 PM

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and SisterSong have collaborated on a disturbing new report on racial discrimination in health care in the US, particularly around the maternal health of Black women in the South and immigrants’ access to reproductive health care. The two main takeaways:

  • Black women nationwide are nearly four times as likely to die in childbirth as white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Maternal mortality is nothing short of a human rights crisis in the country, with the United States’ maternal mortality rate increasing by 136 percent between 1990 and 2013, which is nearly double the rate of Saudi Arabia and more than triple that of the United Kingdom according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Today’s report features several personal stories from Black women in Jackson, Miss. and Atlanta, Ga as they’ve attempted to access basic sexual and reproductive health care services—including prenatal and maternal care. These two cities have some of the highest rates of maternal mortality and other racial health disparities in the country and the stories highlight the pervasive and often irreparable harm that takes place when discrimination in health care is commonplace.
  • Women without U.S. citizenship are three times as likely as U.S.-born citizens to lack private or public insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Federal and state policy has exacerbated coverage barriers for immigrant women and their families, with many programs excluding individuals based solely on their immigration status. Today’s report also features stories from a 2013 report from the Center and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health documenting the devastating human toll on Latinas and their families in the Rio Grande Valley community in the wake of Texas’s family planning program cuts. The stories highlight the very real effect of the family planning cuts, with women unable to access basic reproductive health care and oftentimes left with undiagnosed or untreated illnesses.

The report is being presented at a UN Committee meeting in Geneva this week that is reviewing the United States’ commitment to eliminate racial discrimination in law and practice. Its conclusion is that we’re clearly not doing enough in the realm of health care. As Elizabeth Dawes Gay writes at RH Reality Check, these disparities are not inevitable. “Rather, this is a direct result of political disinterest in helping the most vulnerable in our society, an unwillingness to acknowledge and address racial discrimination as a major factor in health outcomes, and a refusal to invest in health and well-being beyond insurance access to health care.”

The advocates identify a number of common sense policy changes that would help: provide health insurance coverage for poor women in the 19 states that have absurdly rejected Medicaid expansion; expand access to comprehensive sex education, maternal health care, and birth control (that last one is particularly important given another recent study found the number of women in need of publicly-funded contraception has skyrocketed); address racial stereotypes that promote stigma; repeal the provisions in Obamacare that exclude many immigrants from coverage; and pass paid parental leave.

Yes, it sounds like a reproductive justice wishlist, but really, it’s simply what’s required if the US wants to start protecting the human rights of all its residents.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation