Ground Zero in System’s War on Women:
Pregnancy-Related Deaths Double in Texas
August 30, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Two-hundred ninety-six dead is a horrendous number. That’s the number of women who died in the state of Texas from 2007 through 2010 before, during, or after childbirth from causes related to their pregnancies. But bad as that number is, a new study has found that the rate of pregnancy-related deaths (maternal mortality) in Texas had doubled by 2012. So from 2011 through 2014, the number of maternal deaths jumped to 537.
If Texas were a country, it would have the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the developed world!
The study, “Recent Increases in the U.S. Maternal Mortality Rate,” by researchers from the Maryland, Boston, and Stanford universities, which will be published in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, also found that across the U.S. the rate of maternal mortality was higher than previously known and rose 27 percent between 2000 and 2014.
“Most maternal deaths are preventable”
Maternal care is basic to healthcare, affecting the lives of millions and millions of pregnant women and mothers, and all humanity’s children. And what makes this rising death toll so outrageous is that it’s utterly unnecessary.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines maternal mortality as a woman’s death from pregnancy-related causes—while pregnant or within 42 days of terminating her pregnancy. Three-quarters of such deaths are caused by severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure, complications from delivery, and unsafe abortions. WHO states, “Most maternal deaths are preventable, as the health-care solutions to prevent or manage complications are well known.”1 Yet maternal deaths are rising in the U.S., and spiking in Texas. (The toll of pregnancy-related maternal deaths is much more devastating in the vast areas of the world distorted and impoverished by the workings of global imperialism.)2
This is a society awash in statistics—stock market valuations, baseball batting averages, what’s “trending” online, and yes, infant mortality. But collecting data on maternal mortality, vital to women’s and children’s health, has been crippled and ignored, and the government hasn’t published pregnancy-related death statistics since 2007 (all of which prompted this new study). This is another glaring example of how patriarchy runs through every nook and cranny of this society, and how this system considers women as sex objects and breeders whose lives are expendable.
What’s Behind the Texas Spike in Maternal Deaths?
The new study didn’t evaluate the causes for Texas’ sudden jump in maternal mortality, but noted such leaps are usually associated with “war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval.”
There is a different kind of a war going on now across the U.S. and especially intensely in Texas—a many-sided war against women, one that’s hitting Black women particularly hard.
The leap in pregnancy-related deaths in Texas began in 2011 as the Republican dominated state government slashed the budget for reproductive healthcare by two-thirds, cutting it from $111.5 million to roughly $38 million. This forced some 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The clinics left open could only provide services, such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings, well-woman exams, to half as many women as before the cuts.
In 2011, Texas also blocked Planned Parenthood clinics from receiving state funds to provide poor women with preventive healthcare, cutting off tens of thousands more women from contraception, cancer screenings and other services.
In August 2014, the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014: Ground Zero Texas, initiated by Stop Patriarchy, traveled through Texas because of the abortion emergency there that threatened to close all but six abortion clinics that were left. These courageous fighters faced down threats, arrests and brutality to boldly put forward their stand of Abortion on Demand Without Apology!
Those budget cuts were not driven primarily by financial concerns; they went hand-in-hand with an all-out assault on abortion access. Texas had enacted a whole series of anti-abortion laws that cut the number of abortion clinics from 46 in 2011 to fewer than 25 in 2014. (See, “Why Texas is Ground Zero of the Abortion Rights Emergency,” June 30, 2014.)
Some abortion providers offer other forms of health care. So these cuts in family planning funding, aid to poor women, and attacks on abortion meant that tens of thousands in Texas, especially poor and oppressed people and those in rural areas, no longer had ready access to basic healthcare and prenatal care. This made it very difficult for many women to get contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancies or for pregnant women to monitor their own health, and the health of their fetuses.
One of the study’s authors, Dr. Marian F. MacDorman of the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland, told Revolution/revcom.us that “Planned Parenthood offers a lot of just really basic introductory healthcare. This is the first place people would go to get a pregnancy test, to get a referral for prenatal care, or for whatever they need. And if that place is not available then it might lead to delays in getting the pregnancy test, getting into prenatal care. And we all know that early prenatal care is supposed to be healthy for women, and pregnant women.”
No doubt other factors, demanding further study, have contributed to Texas’s leap in pregnancy-related deaths. One is the intensifying oppression of Black people, which exacts a terrible toll on Black women who become pregnant. “Certainly in the United States in general and also in Texas specifically, the maternal mortality rate for African-American women is more than twice as high as for white women. So that’s one thing that’s really bad.” Dr. MacDorman said.
A new study by a Texas-sponsored taskforce, released on August 25, found that in 2011 and 2012, while Black mothers accounted for only 11.4 percent of Texas births, they accounted for 28.8 percent of pregnancy-related deaths. In other words, being a Black woman in Texas meant you were nearly three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than other women!
Added to these and other horrors, likely driving the rise in maternal mortality, there are more people in Texas without health insurance than in any other state.
In 2013, Texas restored funding for family planning. But some healthcare providers had closed their doors, and those who survived the 2011 cuts are struggling to restore services to their pre-2011 levels.
Maternal Deaths and the War on Women
The leap in maternal mortality in Texas and its rise across the U.S. is taking place at a time when women’s role in society has undergone significant transformations—and is being very sharply contested in many different ways all across the globe. In the U.S. in particular, the evolving demands of global capitalism-imperialism, the political and cultural upheavals of the 1960s, and other factors have led to big changes since the 1950s. Women’s participation in the workforce, universities, and the professions has skyrocketed. Sexual mores and identifications have changed dramatically. The traditional, male-dominated nuclear family is being challenged, shaken, and in some situations fractured.
Patriarchy, the nuclear family, and the oppression of women have been woven into the foundation of American capitalism and society from their beginning. So today, in the face of the tidal forces tearing at this traditional order, powerful ruling forces are fighting very viciously to keep women “in their place,” and maintain this reactionary patriarchal order.
They’re doing so by waging an ideological, political, legal, and economic war on women, whose leading edge now is ending abortion and denying women one of their most basic rights—to control their own bodies and reproduction. Texas is a base area of these extreme-right wing, Christian fascist forces and ground zero in this war on women.
It is not hyperbole to say that some of the women who died in Texas from pregnancy-related causes were casualties in that war on women.
The Battle Against Women’s Oppression and Getting to a Whole Different World
The revolutionary leader Bob Avakian (BA) has written that this very sharp contradiction will be resolved in one of two ways:
The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today’s extreme circumstances...It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms....The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement?
—Originally published 1985, Cited in A Declaration: For Women's Liberation And The Emancipation Of All Humanity, a special issue of Revolution, #158, March 8, 2009
That “revolutionary resolution” is urgently needed and a serious possibility. Such a revolution will only be made if the fury of women is unleashed as a mighty force for revolution. And that revolution will only be worth making if it’s aimed at totally uprooting patriarchy and all forms of women’s oppression as part of emancipating all humanity.
To dig into the strategy for revolution brought forward by BA and his leadership of the movement for an actual revolution, click here.
To see how a genuine revolutionary state, based on the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America written by BA, would deal with the emancipation of women, peoples’ healthcare, and transforming the world overall, click here.
1. See World Health Organization, Maternal mortality ratio (per 100 000 live births) and Maternal mortality, November 2015
2. The workings of global capitalist-imperialism make the situation for mothers and children even worse in the vast areas of the world it oppresses and impoverishes. “Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death and disability among women of reproductive age in developing countries,” WHO reports. “Approximately 2.7 million newborn babies die every year, and an additional 2.6 million are stillborn...By the end of 2015, roughly 303,000 women will have died during and following pregnancy and childbirth. Almost all of these deaths occurred in low-resource settings, and most could have been prevented.” The organization sums up, “Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth... 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.”
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