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1:52 pm
Mon March 22, 2010

Maternal Health Care

New York City, NY – In releasing a new report on maternal health nationwide, Amnesty International today revealed that flaws and shocking disparities in maternal health care that the government is ignoring lead to two to three women dying daily in the United States from pregnancy-related complications, with half of these deaths believed preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A state-by-state examination shows that Oklahoma is 39th on a maternal mortality ranking, with 12.3 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The new Amnesty International report, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, also reveals that severe pregnancy-related complications that nearly cause death -- known as "near misses" -- are rising at an alarming rate, increasing by 25 percent since 1998; currently nearly 34,000 women annually experience a "near miss" during delivery. With a lifetime risk of maternal deaths that is greater than in 40 other countries, including virtually all of the industrialized countries, the United States has failed to reverse the two-decade upward trend in preventable maternal deaths, despite pledges to do so.

The report cited numerous causes for the crisis and offers lengthy recommendations on improving maternal health care.

Inadequate prenatal care is cited as a contributing factor in the crisis; women who do not get prenatal care are three to four times more likely to die than women who do. In Oklahoma, one in five women (22.4 percent) receives delayed or no prenatal care. The number rises to nearly one in three women (30.6 percent) among women of color.

Obstacles to care are widespread: the most obvious being that across the United States nearly 13 million women of reproductive age (15 to 44), or one in five, have no health insurance. In Oklahoma nearly one in four women (24.0 percent) is uninsured; among women of color the number of uninsured climbs to 33.6 percent, one in three. The state's Medicaid eligibility level for working parents is also very low, $8,532. Lack of access to health care centers and providers is a problem nationwide, the report found; in Oklahoma 47 percent of women live in medically underserved areas.

"No issue can be more central to the health and well-being of our nation than maternal health care," said Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director for Amnesty International USA. "The government should accept its duty and its moral obligation to address this inexcusable crisis by developing a comprehensive plan to ensure quality health care for all pregnant women. If the federal government can address steroid use in baseball, certainly lawmakers can address maternal health, which affects every family in the United States."

Maternal health is a human right for every woman in the United States, regardless of race or income. Yet, the United States lacks a systematic, robust government response to this critical problem. Amnesty International is urging President Obama to work with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to establish, and seek Congressional funding, for a single office responsible for ensuring that all women receive quality maternal health care. An Office of Maternal Health would lead government action to reduce the soaring pregnancy-related complications and maternal deaths nationwide.

Additionally, Amnesty International calls for vigorous enforcement of federal non-discrimination laws and an increase in support for Federally Qualified Health Centers by 2011 to expand the number of women who can access affordable maternal health care.

"This country's extraordinary record of medical advancement makes its haphazard approach to maternal care all the more scandalous and disgraceful," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Mothers die not because the United States can't provide good care, but because it lacks the political will to make sure good care is available to all women."

Amnesty International's analysis shows that health care reform before Congress does not address the crisis of maternal health care.

"Reform is primarily focused on health care coverage and reducing health care costs, and even optimistic estimates predict that any proposal on the table will still leave millions without access to affordable care," said Rachel Ward, one of the authors of the Deadly Delivery report. "Furthermore, it does not address discrimination, systemic failures and government accountability documented in Amnesty International's report."

Rapid and comprehensive federal leadership is required, as the report found numerous systemic failures, including the following:

Burdensome bureaucratic procedures in Medicaid enrollment substantially delay access to vital prenatal care for pregnant women seeking government-funded care. Twenty-one states do not offer "presumptive eligibility" which allows pregnant women to temporarily access medical care while their permanent application for Medicaid is pending. Women who do not receive any prenatal care are three to four times more likely to die than women who do.

The number of deaths is significantly understated because there are no federal requirements to report maternal deaths or complications and data collection at the state level is insufficient.

Oversight and accountability is lacking. 29 states and the District of Columbia have no maternal death review process at all.


Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.