|As we await a decision on whether Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk will deem unlawful the FDA’s 23-year-old approval of mifepristone, the CDC has released new data showing a 40 percent increase in maternal deaths between 2020 and 2021. This is after the CDC announced, in September, that 84 percent of maternal deaths that occurred between 2017 and 2019 were preventable.
Can we all just sit with that for a moment?
We created this newsletter with the express goal of not bumming people out. So I guess I’m breaking a rule by digging into this data. But the numbers are deeply disturbing and deserve to be spotlighted. As Wanda Irving—whose daughter Sharon Irving died in 2017, three weeks after delivering her baby girl—told NPR, “People need to understand the tremendous devastation that is caused by maternal mortality and the loss to society as well as to the families.”
Sharon Irving worked as an epidemiologist at the CDC. Hospital doctors kept sending her home after she raised concerns about how she was feeling in the final weeks of her pregnancy. She collapsed three weeks after she gave birth and never woke up.
In 2021, Black women continued to have the highest maternal mortality rate, at 69.9 per 100,000 live births, or 2.6 times the rate of white women, according to the CDC data.. (Some older studies suggest the rate is actually around three times that of white women)
Moira Donegan reminds us that this data was collected before the Dobbs decision, when maternal care undeniably got worse around the country, with doctors now doing even more harm to their patients by denying them the care they need.
“This means that pregnant women are getting sicker, and waiting longer for care,” writes Donegan, who also explained how negligence and contempt aimed at Black women contributes to the alarming rates of maternal death. “More bodies will accumulate; more lives will be cut short; more women will be lost to the cruelty, indifference, scarcity, and fear that now pervades our medical system.”
Now a federal judge in Amarillo, Texas, is poised to decide on a challenge to the FDA’s approval of an essential and overwhelmingly safe medication for abortion, mifepristone. Kacsmaryk’s convictions against abortion are well known, and the panic people feel over his impending decision is not only justified; it also feels like not enough. I am hopeful that David Cohen is right about a flaw that should end the case. (Cohen, Greer Donley, and Rachel Rebouche have also argued that the judge isn’t the final decision-maker when it comes to taking mifepristone off the market.) In the meantime, I’ll be following this year’s Black Maternal Health Week (April 11-17), which promises to be a time of “restoring Black autonomy and joy.” If there’s anything we can use right now, it’s some joy.
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