Olympic gold medalist Tori Bowie passed away in April due to complications from childbirth. Medical examiner Chantel Njiwaji cited that she may have suffered from respiratory distress and eclampsia.
The death of an elite athlete like Bowie again raises the question of why women of color have issues during pregnancy at such an extreme rate compared to their white counterparts.
According to a 2021 report or study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the mortality rates for Black women giving childbirth in comparison to White and Hispanic women is staggering. The maternal mortality rate for Black women at that time was 37.3 percent.
That percentage goes way down for White and Hispanic women. The survey showed that the maternal mortality rate for White women was listed at 14.9 percent. The percentage of Hispanic women with maternal mortality rates sits at 11.8 percent. The CDC stated in its report that Black women have a maternal mortality rate that is 2.6 times greater than non-Hispanic White women.
In 2022, the Black Maternal Health Caucus (BMHC) received close to $1 billion in funding from Congress to help combat this issue.
“The maternal health crisis in the United States has not gotten any better during my lifetime—and the risks facing mothers only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said U.S. Congresswoman Lauren Underwood.
Of the monies received by the BMHC, $748 million was allotted to go to the Maternal and Child Health Bllock Grant to assist in the wellness of mothers, children, and families, the organization cited on its website.
“As a co-chair of the Black Maternal Health Caucus and member of [the] House Appropriations Committee, I look forward to building on this progress to address maternal health by passing the Momnibus to save moms’ lives, reduce racial and ethnic maternal health disparities, and advance true birth equity in the United States.”?
KFF has reported that Black women’s mortality rates during pregnancy are two to three times higher than White women. There seem to be several factors that have contributed to these alarming statistics. Structural racism is one of the most critical and under-looked reasons for these tragedies.
“The way structural racism can play out in this particular disease is not being taken seriously. We know that delay in diagnosis is what leads to these really bad outcomes;” said Dr. Laura Riley, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
AP News tells the story of Angelica Lyons, a public health instructor at the University of Alabama. Lyons dealt with complications during her pregnancy and says she told the hospital repeatedly she was having stomach pains, which the doctors seemed to ignore.
Providers seem slow to listen to Black patients when these issues arise, even knowing Black women are more susceptible to pregnancy-related problems.
“Race plays a huge part, especially in the South, in terms of how you’re treated, and the effects
are catastrophic,” said Lyons.
Factors such as the Roe V. Wade reversal and Covid-19 have worsened the problem over the past few years, making this as important of an issue as ever. In recent years, we have also seen a jump in cardiovascular disease-related deaths, according to the American Heart Association, which happens to be the number one cause of death during pregnancy.
In the case of Tori Bowie, she may have been avoiding the hospital altogether. Her agent told NBC that Bowie had mentioned not wanting to have her baby in the hospital. The thought that a well-known, successful athlete like herself would avoid the doctor’s office during pregnancy speaks volumes about the state of medical attention for Black women in the United States.
Bowie’s agent pointing out that she did not trust hospitals highlights the issue faced by people of color, especially women of color, regarding healthcare. If Black women can not confidently put their health and the health of their unborn child in the hands of medical professionals, maybe that is the problem.
Benjamin Verbrugge is a student at CSU Dominguez Hill studying journalism. “Sports have brought me much joy throughout my life, and I want to be able to give a little back to something that has meant so much to me. I grew up in Los Angeles primarily following the Lakers and Dodgers, but I am also an avid fan of sporting events, news, and stories in general.”