This Mother’s Day, Reproductive Justice for All American Women

Dr. Susan M. Blaustein
5 min readMay 10, 2019

This Mother’s Day, it’s time we own up: we do not have reproductive justice in America.

Just in time to celebrate all moms, the Center for Disease Control has issued a new study confirming shocking racial disparities in maternal mortality in the United States, with African American women dying in childbirth at 3–4 times the rate of white women. In New York City, Washington, DC, New Jersey, and states resisting Medicaid expansion, the disparity is at least twice that.

The United States is one of only 13 countries — — and the only advanced industrialized nation — where maternal mortality is actually going up. Forty-fifth in the world in grappling with maternal mortality, the U.S. now ranks behind Libya, Kazakhstan, and nearly every country in the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia.

All of this despite the U.S. spending more on health care per capita than any other nation.

What’s going on?

A number of factors have contributed to this shameful positioning; first and foremost is racism.

Whether its expression is veiled, muted, or simply denied, racism’s impact is nevertheless felt in the implicit bias many caregivers and institutions hold toward women of color, whose health issues too often go unheeded and unaddressed. Women themselves often internalize the toxic physiological stress issuing from racism, which can result in hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and elevated rates of infant and maternal death. This impact of toxic stress relating to racism is constant regardless of income and educational levels.

Neck and neck with racism, of course, is the sexism that still prevails in so many institutional settings — the unfortunate but very real predisposition among countless caregivers not to take seriously what women tell you they feel and need.

For black women, that’s a double whammy. “Basically, black women are undervalued,” Dr. Ana Langer, Director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the American Heart Association. “They are not monitored as carefully as white women are. When they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed.”

Dr. Susan M. Blaustein

Founder & Executive Director of WomenStrong International. Director of Millennium Cities Initiative at Columbia University.