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Amnesty International issues scathing report on pregnancy and childbirth care in U.S.

With so many young women I personally know having babies this year, I read with both anger and dismay Amnesty International’s damning report about pregnancy and childbirth care in the United States.

Released last Friday, the report, aptly titled “Deadly Delivery,” notes that deaths from pregnancy and childbirth in the United States have doubled in the past 20 years (from 6.6 per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006).

That’s two to three women dying daily in the United States from pregnancy-related complications.

Some of that increase may be due to better reporting, but it’s more likely that the figures may actually understate the problem, for, as the Amnesty International report points out, there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths.

American women are now at greater risk of dying from pregnancy-related causes than women in 40 other countries — five times greater than Greek women, for example, and four times greater than German women.

And another 1.7 million American women — a third of all women who become pregnant in the United States — experience some kind of pregnancy-related complication that adversely affects their health. Severe pregnancy-related complications (known as “near misses” because the woman comes close to death) have increased 25 percent since 1998.

Yet, as the Amnesty International report notes, the United States spends $86 billion annually on hospitalization related to pregnancy and childbirth — more than on any other area of medicine.

Preventable deaths

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of all maternal deaths in the U.S. are preventable. Pregnant women and new mothers are dying because of “systemic failures” in our current health system, the Amnesty International report says. Those failures include non-existent or inadequate health care coverage (13 million American women, or one in five of reproductive age, have no health insurance), financial and physical barriers to accessing care (including a lack of physicians in rural areas), and an overuse of risky interventions, such as inducing labor and delivering via cesarean section.

African-American women are almost four times as likely as white women to die from pregnancy-related causes, according to the report.

Minnesota scores better than most states

There’s some good news for Minnesota women in the report’s appendix. We’re one of only five states that met the Healthy People 2010 goal (set in 1998) of reducing maternal deaths to 4.3 per 100,000 live births. Our current maternal mortality ratio is 3.7.

Still, 13.9 percent of Minnesota women receive delayed or no prenatal care. And for women of color, that percentage jumps to 27.9.

Behind the statistics

Interspersed among the appalling statistics in the Amnesty International report are truly heartbreaking stories of individual women who died or nearly died as a result of inadequate pre-natal or post-natal care. Here’s just one of those stories:

In 2007, Valerie Scythes, a 35-year-old teacher in a New Jersey elementary school, died after giving birth to a healthy baby, Isabella Rose. The cause of death was a blood clot (embolism). She had had a scheduled c-section and an ovarian cyst was removed at the same time. Despite her heightened risk of developing a blood clot, because of her age, weight and surgery, she received no preventative care. She was not provided with compression stockings or a blood-thinning drug and staff failed to ensure that she walked around as soon as possible – she had been in bed more than a day following her c-section when she died. Valerie Scythes’ attorney told Amnesty International, “I would like to see a national standard of care implemented, similar to what they have in place in England.”…
In an unrelated and tragic coincidence, Valerie Scythes’ close friend and teacher at the same elementary school, Melissa Farah, died following a c-section at the same hospital two weeks later. The cause of her death was shock as a result of hemorrhage. A hospital spokesman stated: “Our treatment protocols seem to be well in line with or consistent with what I’ll call appropriate treatment care.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/16/2010 - 10:10 am.

    This really came as no surprise esp. considering the republican opposition to health care funding. S alon or slate h a d a si milar type of article yesterday altho it dealt more with politics. It is tr uly s ad.

  2. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 03/16/2010 - 12:27 pm.

    If this isn’t proof positive that our health care dollars being used unwisely, I don’t know what is.

  3. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/16/2010 - 04:44 pm.

    Sorry to see that more people have not commented on this article. For whatever it says it is clear to me that Representative Bachman, Representative Kline, and others who cast a no vote on health care reform this week will be the most pro abortion candidates Minnesota has ever known. Thousands of stories similar to the one posted in this article will happen when perhaps they could have been prevented. And most of those casting no votes will always have access to top care.

  4. Submitted by jana studelska on 03/19/2010 - 11:28 am.

    It boggles my mind. I’ve watched it happen. It’s why I am a licensed midwife, offering evidence-based care to healthy women with healthy pregnancies. I provide a safe and affordable option to the insanity.

    We’ve created an entire country that believes that childbirth is dangerous, deadly, and fraught with unpredictable complications that require interventions, surgeries, and hospitalization. That’s why people aren’t commenting, why they’re not up in arms; they have normalized the horrible care they’re receiving!

    Birth is the **number one** reason for admittance to a US hospital. Time for some serious reform.

  5. Submitted by Aaron Tovo on 03/19/2010 - 07:58 pm.

    Thanks for this story. It’s hard to believe that 30% of women of color get delayed or no prenatal care. All pregnancies should get full care from day one – it’s the only ethically and even fiscally responsible policy for our government.

    BTW,AI also has reports on maternal mortality in third world countries where the numbers are even more shocking: http://www.amnestyusa.org/demand-dignity/maternal-health-is-a-human-right/page.do?id=1041189

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