Last week, the CDC released a new report showcasing a significant increase in maternal mortality. The hike in deaths is concerning to leaders in the United States.
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics release says 1,205 individuals died due to maternal causes in 2021. During previous years, maternal mortality was 861 in 2020, and 754 in 2019.
The World Health Organization (WHO) labels a maternal death as "the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes."
The new data lists the maternal mortality rate for 2021 at 32.0 deaths per 100,000 live births. In 2021, the rate was 23.8, and 20.1 in 2019. The report also notes Black women are the most affected.
Black women have a maternal mortality rate of 69.9 deaths per 100,00 live births, which the CDC says is over twice the rate for non-Hispanic white women. The maternal mortality rate for white women was 26 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 28 deaths for Hispanic women.
When compared to other high-developed countries, the U.S. data is concerning. The WHO says the maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 12 deaths per 100,000 live births in high-income countries, versus 430 deaths in low-income countries.
In an NPR report, Donna Hoyert, a health scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, told the outlet COVID-19 may be the reason to blame for a maternal mortality increase.
"We had some forewarning with the increase between 2019 and 2020 that it looked like maternal mortality rates were increasing during this pandemic period," Hoyert said. "With the overall COVID deaths that occurred in 2021, there was a shift towards younger people, so those would be in the age groups where people would be more likely to be pregnant or recently pregnant.”
U.S. Congressional leaders are pointing to the racial divide as a significant matter of concern. In a statement, Maternity Care Caucus Co-Chairs Representative Young Kim (CA-40) and Robin Kelly (IL-02) called the newly released statistics unacceptable. The representatives believe the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade last summer will only lead to more maternal deaths due to limits on abortion rights.
Increases in the maternal mortality rate for those under 25 years of age are highlighted in the CDC report. The maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births for Hispanic women increased from 7.7 in 2020 to 14.1 in 2021. Black women under 25 saw an increase from 28.8 to 41.5, while white women reported a smaller hike from 11.5 to 16.9.
In her release, Kelly called the report a wake-up call to all U.S. leaders, as the crisis may only worsen without any intervention.
"This crisis continues to be much worse for Black, Indigenous, and Latina women who die at much higher rates than their white counterparts," Kelly said. "Black and Brown moms have been disproportionately impacted by the maternal health crisis for years and the disparate health outcomes from COVID-19 for racial minorities have made these disparities even more dire."
Kelly is advocating for the passage of her MOMMA’s Act, which includes measures to attack the increase in maternal deaths. Most importantly, the bill seeks to create federal obstetric emergency protocols and expand Medicaid coverage to new moms throughout the postpartum period.
The Biden and Harris White House is also taking steps to tackle the maternal mortality increase. On June 24, 2022, the administration released its White House Blueprint For Addressing The Maternal Health Crisis.
The Biden and Harris blueprint lists five priorities to improve maternal health for Americans:
- Increasing access to and coverage of comprehensive high-quality maternal health services, including behavioral health services.
- Ensuring women giving birth are heard and are decision-makers in accountable systems of care.
- Advancing data collection, standardization, harmonization, transparency, and research.
- Expanding and diversifying the perinatal workforce.
- Strengthening economic and social supports for people before, during, and after pregnancy.