June 7, 2022

Repeal of abortion rights could spell more deaths for Detroit women

Detroit’s maternal death rate is triple the national average. Nurses and advocates in the city say Black women in particular will face dire consequences if the U.S. Supreme Court criminalizes abortion. A leaked draft opinion suggests the high court this month is poised to strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision nearly 50 years after it enshrined a Constitutional right to abortion without excessive government restriction. The ruling would trigger a 1931 state law banning most abortions, effectively outlawing the practice in Michigan and requiring more women to take on birth-related health risks. Researchers who track maternal mortality expect to see a corresponding increase in pregnancy-related deaths if abortion is outlawed, particularly among women of color. Black women in Michigan are three times as likely to die from pregnancy than white women. Gwendolyn Norman, a lifelong Detroiter, nurse, faculty member at Wayne State University and coordinator at the Alliance for Innovation in Maternal Health, said a large body of research has shown implicit biases and racial discrimination in the healthcare system affect Black women’s health. “The higher up on the socioeconomic level, the greater the disparity you see in birth outcomes for African American women,” Norman said. “They’re exposed to factor that are outside of their own personal control.” Norman said she’s interviewed Black women who have been ignored by healthcare providers when they bring up pain, irregular bleeding or other signs of troubles with their pregnancies. Black mothers are also less likely than white mothers to receive prenatal care, which makes them five times more likely to have a pregnancy-related death. “African Americans in general do not get the same treatment and care when walk into a healthcare institution,” Norman said. “They are regarded differently and treated differently. In critical situations where life and death decisions are being made, that disproportionately impacts people of color.”  

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