CRISIS UNVEILED: Surge in Black infant deaths across US South tied to abortion bans

Surge in Black infant deaths across US South tied to abortion bans | Credits: Getty Images
Surge in Black infant deaths across US South tied to abortion bans | Credits: Getty Images

United States: The increasing number of black infant and maternal deaths in US Deep south states like South Carolina and Georgia has become a matter of national concern.

According to data that KFF Health News obtained from the state health department – Orangeburg County, South Carolina, had the highest infant death rate in the state in 2021 in 50 years since 1970. And the authorities are concerned because, in all, one (1) of the 17 infants who died in 2021 in Orangeburg was Black, USA Today reported.

These problems are prevalent in other states as well. In states such as Kansas, Arizona, and Wisconsin, for example, Black infants die at more than double the rate of white babies.

In Flint, Michigan, more than half of the residents are Black; there, the infant mortality rate for all babies in 2021 exceeded the rate in any Southern state.

Moreover, in Deep South states like South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the infant mortality in rural counties, especially for Black babies, often resemble those in much poorer parts of the world.

Effect of SC 2022 Abortion ban on Black American lives, as per Reports

Since the Supreme Court passed its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24, 2022,which allowed state legislatures to ban abortion, most states have passed either full or partial bans.

More than half of all Black Americans live in the South, where many of the country’s strictest abortion policies were enacted this year and last. The research and preliminary data suggested the abortion ban will further harm Black women and babies, USA Today reported.

According to KFF data, 42 percent of all reported abortions in the United States were obtained by Black women in 2021, which accounts for a larger share than any other race.

Moreover, a KFF survey conducted this year of 569 OB-GYNs found that most doctors reported the Dobbs decision has worsened pregnancy-related mortality and exacerbated racial and ethnic inequities in maternal health.

People protesting against abortion law in the United States

USA Today reported that in the states where abortion is banned or restricted, birth rates have increased since the Dobbs ruling. The State-level abortion bans will undoubtedly prove fatal for some people, particularly Black women and children, who are more likely to die before, during, and after childbirth than white women and children.

Most states haven’t released infant and maternal death data that reflects the impact of the Dobbs decision. But maternal health experts aren’t optimistic.

Kelli Parker, director of communications and marketing for the nonprofit Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, said, “There is so much anger,” and further mentioned, “This type of legislation uniquely impacts women of color and other historically marginalized groups.”

State-wise Mortality cases

The infant mortality data from the Department of State Health Services, Texas, showed that the number of babies who died during their first year of life significantly increased after lawmakers passed a six-week abortion ban in 2021, as per data obtained by CNN.

In Texas, Black babies die before their 1st birthday at a rate more than twice that of White infants.

In South Carolina, the state Supreme Court upheld a ban that bars abortion if fetal cardiac activity could be detected. Due to this, non-Hispanic Black infants are also more than twice as likely to die during their first year than non-Hispanic white infants. The state’s Black infant mortality rate has increased by nearly 40 percent from 2017 to 2021.

Also, among the non-Hispanic Black women in South Carolina, a 67 percent higher pregnancy-related mortality ratio is experienced when compared with their white counterparts in 2018 and 2019, according to the latest data from the state’s Maternal Morbidity and Mortality Review Committee, as per USA Today.

As per Sarah Knox, senior director of policy and advocacy at the nonprofit Children’s Trust of South Carolina, “We have a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, our latest data shows we are moving in the wrong direction.”

Reason for higher mortality rate in Deep South

As per USA Today reporting, Dobbs ruling is one of the factors, but other major factors across the South, as per the public health experts, are the closure of rural hospitals, the scarcity of doctors and midwives, the pervasiveness of obesity and chronic disease, and many states’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

In many other cases, the intersection of poverty and structural racism in medicine is to be blamed for the deaths of Black women and their infants.

Various biasness-related reports filed by Black patients

As per the KFF survey reports released this week, various complaints were reported by Black patients regularly, such as their healthcare provider assuming something about them without asking, suggesting they were personally at fault for a health problem, ignoring a direct request or question; or refused to prescribe them pain medication they thought they needed.

In the KFF survey, Black women reported the highest rates of unfair treatment, with one (1) in five (5) saying a healthcare provider treated them differently because of their racial or ethnic background.

What is the new research doing?

The researchers are working on identifying the solutions to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies across the South. The National Institutes of Health granted Ochsner Health and its partners a $16.5 million grant to establish the Southern Center for Maternal Health Equity to address Louisiana’s high maternal mortality rate.

Part of that research will involve finding ways to deliver care in rural parts of the state where hospitals have closed, high-risk specialists don’t exist, and pregnant women are disproportionately Black.

The Medicaid program

It is a children’s Health Insurance Program that provides funds to states for health insurance to families with children by the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

Eligible women are also covered for 12 months after they give birth. But every year, many childless women in Southern states are not eligible for the low-income health insurance program until they become pregnant, as the lawmakers in many of the Deep South states have not expanded access to the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

What experts have to say?

As per some healthcare policy experts, covering women before they become pregnant and between pregnancies under the Medicaid program would reduce the burden of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension and the risks those conditions pose to women and infants.

John Simpkins, president of the North Carolina-based MDC, a nonprofit focused on improving racial equity and economic mobility in the South, said that tracking long-term improvement is crucial because success won’t be achieved overnight. He further said, “If we’re talking about population health improvements, then really the intervention should be beginning with kids who are being born right now, and following them through adulthood, and then probably their kids.”

Medicaid expansion, for example, could raise families out of poverty, but those benefits might not be realized for another generation, he said.

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