Black Arkansans Twice as Likely to Die From Pregnancy-Related Causes

A new report provides recommendations for improving the critical state of Black women’s health.

Black mom bottle feeding and kissing her baby

Systemic racism, discrimination and implicit bias within the health care system are negatively impacting Black women’s health. That’s according to The Critical State of Black Women’s Health, a new report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. An extension of a previously published brief by the same name, the nonpartisan nonprofit organization released the report today in conjunction with Black Maternal Health Week. AACF Health Policy Analyst CaSandra Glover is the report’s author. 

“Our goal is to help inform Arkansans of health policy issues impacting Black women and to create partnerships with other community stakeholders in Arkansas to help increase access to health care and improve the well-being of all Black women,” Glover said. “Policymakers, health care providers and community-based organizations must work together to address the health care inequities that plague Black women.”

The report, which Glover discussed during a virtual forum this afternoon, explains Black women are more likely to have a high-risk pregnancy because they are more likely to have a pre-existing chronic illness prior to becoming pregnant. Black women are three to four times more likely than White women to experience pregnancy-related death. In 2018, Black women in Arkansas were 2.2 times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White non-Hispanic women.

Black infants have twice the risk of death compared with White infants within their first year of life. While Black infants only represent 15 percent of all births in the United States, they represent 29 percent of total deaths in the first year. In Arkansas, the infant mortality rate is 6.9 per 1,000 live births compared to the nation’s infant mortality rate of 5.6.

Arkansas Minority Health Commission director Kenya Eddings served as a panelist during today’s seminar and she credits tennis star Serena Williams with bringing the topic of maternal mortality as it relates to Black women to the forefront. After giving birth in 2017, Williams experienced complications and had to advocate for treatment, a common experience for Black women, Eddings said.

“People who have means, people who have access still are not given the quality attention and the quality of care that they need,” she said. “So if this is happening to women of means, what is happening to women who do not have those means and do not have that access?”

The new report argues health disparities facing Black women can be reversed by implementing aggressive health strategies. Dr. Gloria Richard-Davis, executive director of the Division for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, also spoke at today’s panel discussion and said it’s critical for health care providers to be active in trying to influence policies.

“Our policies can either drive towards equity or drive in the direction of inequity, and many of our policies are definitely driving inequities,” she said.

Targeted approaches are critical, according to Glover who recommends creating policies with an intentional racial equity lens, continuing the expansion of Medicaid benefits (including postpartum coverage), integrating health care access into public schools, ensuring technological accessibility for Black families, increasing the number of Black professionals in the medical field and improving the quality of care for Black women.

As a woman in women’s health, Richard-Davis said the influence of racism is obvious and “it is clear that there is a lot of work to be done.” 

“And it’s not getting better. It’s moving in the wrong direction,” she said.

The full report is available at www.aradvocates.org. You can also watch today’s webinar on the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Facebook page.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.