Despite what the protesters at your local Planned Parenthood may say, abortion is not unsafe. In fact, you’re about 20 times more likely to die from childbirth-related ailments than you are from getting an abortion.* In California, a disturbing new report shows that more pregnant women are dying than before, due to increased obesity rates, more Cesarean sections, older mothers, and limited health care access. Part of the rise is also attributed to better data reporting methods.
The study (PDF) says that the maternal mortality rate in California is about 14 out of 100,000 live births. In 2005, it was around 12 and in 2002 it was around 10. The rate (and increase) may not sound high, but take into consideration that more than half a million women give birth in California each year, and the state accounts for 1 of 8 births in the US.
The rise in mortality seen in California also reflects national trends, the report says, which is bad news for moms, especially moms of color. African-American women suffer maternal mortality rates far higher than any other ethnic group: about 46 of 100,000 African-American mothers die due to childbirth, as compared to much lower rates in Whites (12.4), Hispanics (12.8), and Asians (9.3). The authors of the report are still not sure exactly why African-American women are four times as likely to die than women of other races, but they suspect a combination of higher obesity rates, lower use of prenatal health care, less adequate care, and various risk factors as a result of lower socioeconomic status (e.g. higher stress). But the authors still seemed to be scratching their heads about how one ethnic group could make up only 6% of all California births, but 22% of maternal deaths.
Another anomaly: although Hispanics overall account for 51% of all California births, foreign-born Hispanics had much better health than those born in the US. “Immigrant Hispanics tend to have better health than the average American population, in spite of what their aggregate socioeconomic indicators would predict,” write the study’s authors. It could be because foreign-born women give birth at younger ages, when they are less likely to encounter complications. Or it could simply be that the American lifestyle, and health care system, is so unhealthy that it’s actually a liability. The high Cesarean rate, which accounts for a third of all births, in particular, is directly related to maternal mortality. And then there’s the question of care, and of cost. Only 22% of people with health insurance in California (the report says) have coverage for maternity services: In 2004, 82% of them did. For those who can’t get, or can’t afford, private health insurance, there’s Medi-Cal, which paid for 47% of all prenatal and pregnancy-related costs in 2008. An especially interesting tidbit found in the report is that 7% of women in Medi-Cal’s maternity program actually HAVE private insurance: their insurance just doesn’t cover maternal services.
There’s something seriously wrong when your health insurer doesn’t cover your prenatal care. Maybe this could be a new torch for the pro-life movement, or a larger one for the pro-choicers. It seems like a perfect platform for a “family values” Republican, no?
*This is provided your abortion is in the first trimester, as 90% of all abortions are. The risk goes up for later abortions.