Cross-posted from Robert Reich Blog
To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That's compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.
A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.
You might say international comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt because of difficulties of getting accurate measurements across nations. Maybe China hides the true extent of its maternal deaths. But Canada and Britain?
Even if you're still skeptical, consider that our rate of maternal death is heading in the wrong direction. It's risen over the past decade and is now nearly the highest in a quarter century.
In 1990, the maternal mortality rate in America was 12.4 women per 100,000 births. In 2003, it was 17.6. Now it's 18.5.
That's not a measurement error because we've been measuring the rate of maternal death in the United States the same way for decades.
By contrast, the rate has been dropping in most other nations. In fact, we're one of just eight nations in which it's been rising. The others that are heading in the wrong direction with us are not exactly a league we should be proud to be a member of. They include Afghanistan, El Salvador, Belize, and South Sudan.
China was ranked 116 in 1990. Now it's moved up to 57. Even if China's way of measuring maternal mortality isn't to be trusted, China is going in the right direction. We ranked 22 in 1990. Now, as I've said, we're down to 60th place.
Something's clearly wrong.
Some say more American women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth because American girls are becoming pregnant at younger and younger ages, where pregnancy and birth can pose greater dangers.
This theory might be convincing if it had data to support it. But contrary to the stereotype of the pregnant young teenager, the biggest rise in pregnancy-related deaths in America has occurred in women 20-24 years old.
Consider that in 1990, 7.2 women in this age group died for every 100,000 live births. By 2013, the rate was 14 deaths in this same age group -- almost double the earlier rate.
Researchers aren't sure what's happening but they're almost unanimous in pointing to a lack of access to health care, coupled with rising levels of poverty.
Some American women are dying during pregnancy and childbirth from health problems they had before they became pregnant but worsened because of the pregnancies -- such as diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.
The real problem, in other words, was they didn't get adequate health care before they became pregnant.