Genocidal Realities

Maternal Deaths—Yes! It is genocide!

September 14, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


In speaking to the situation facing Black and Latino people in the U.S.—mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline, the criminalization and demonization of a whole generation of youth, the overt or just-below-the-surface racism prevalent in society, etc.—Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party has said what is taking place is a slow genocide that could easily become a fast genocide. The word "genocide" comes from the ancient root words "genos" (people) and "cide" (killing). According to the UN, genocide is the deliberate imposition on a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group of "conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." This regular feature highlights aspects of this slow genocide.


What does it mean for a whole people to be counted as less than human, to suffer systematic poverty, discrimination, racism, abuse?

Consider this:

"In New York City, Black, non-Hispanic women were 12 times more likely than White, non-Hispanic women to die from pregnancy-related causes between 2006 and 2010."

This comes from a report issued at the end of July by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Report Health. The overall rate of pregnancy-related deaths in NYC declined from 33.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2001 to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010. However, the gap between the rates of deaths for people identified as white versus those identified as Black was greater during the years 2006—2010 compared to earlier years (2001—2005). In the earlier period, Black women had seven times the death rate during pregnancy than white women. But that got worse in the following five years. Between 2006 and 2010, Black, non-Hispanic women were twelve times more likely to die in pregnancy than other women.

The report goes on to state:

"Although the causal relationships for the increased risk of death for Black, non-Hispanic women are not well established, pregnancy-related mortality is associated with obesity, underlying chronic illness and poverty—all conditions that disproportionately affect New York City's Black population. The chronic stress of racism and social inequality also likely contribute to racial disparities in health, such as differences observed in infant mortality, preterm birth and low birth weight and may play a role in pregnancy-related mortality, as well. Pregnancy-related mortality also disproportionately impacts Asian/Pacific Islander women and Hispanic women, though not to the same extent as that found among Black women."

A similar 2013 report focused on maternal and infant health in the Bronx, the poorest of the NYC boroughs, where 80 percent of the births were to women on Medicaid, and 41 percent of children under five lived in households below the poverty level of $17,916 a year for a family of three. "The borough's rates of infant mortality, and percentages of low birth weight, prematurity, teen pregnancy, and late or no prenatal care exceed—in some cases substantially—those of the city and country. While not addressed directly in our report, other studies have found that these outcomes are directly tied to the adverse impact of poverty and racism. Several of the poorest neighborhoods are particularly hard hit by these conditions. In addition, a large racial disparity remains, with African American/non-Latino black and Latina/o mothers and babies at the greatest risk."

Pre-natal care that starts early in the pregnancy has a large impact on whether babies are born healthy and women survive pregnancy. This is especially critical for women who suffer diseases of poverty, such as obesity, hypertension, and cardiac problems. But in the Bronx in 2010 only 58 percent of the women received prenatal care during the first trimester of their pregnancy. In the Central Bronx from 2008-2010, 18 percent of women received very late or no prenatal care.

The report also paints a vivid picture of other conditions of poverty and the oppression of Black communities that contributes to maternal and infant deaths: the stress of living under racist conditions; toxic environmental conditions in neighborhoods poor Black women tend to live in; the effects of trauma from physical, sexual or psychological abuse by partners or spouses; rape; difficulties in getting adequate birth control or abortion when confronted with an unexpected pregnancy (10 percent of the births in the Bronx were women aged 15-19, and 87 percent of those were unexpected pregnancies).

Compare all of these "reasons" for the deaths with the basic fact that for white women the rates of pregnancy-related deaths have dropped dramatically since the beginning of the 20th century, and continued to drop in the first ten years of the 21st century, while for Black women they have continued to be high and poverty-related causes have increased.

The only reason for Black women to die in pregnancy-related deaths at a rate 12 times that of white people is that we live in a society where decisions about health care are based on profit, not overall on the needs of the people, and we live in a society where the oppression of Black people and other people of color is fundamental to the continued existence of that society. There is no justification or rationale for this situation to continue to exist!

And measure it against a revolutionary society that will be built where profit-driven health care is in the history books, where in regards to health, the goal of the government will be to promote the all-around health and well-being of all citizens, including through low-cost and eventually free health care for all. Where it is written into the Constitution that "...the orientation, laws and policies of the government of the New Socialist Republic in North America shall also attach great importance to—and shall wield to the fullest extent the political, legal and moral force, authority and influence of the government on behalf of—achieving the full equality of nationalities within this Republic and to overcoming the whole history and continuing effects of national oppression, not only in this society but throughout the world."


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