Each year, Black Maternal Health Week is honored from April 11th–17th, bringing communities together to discuss the dire circumstances of Black maternal health in the United States. Women* in the United States die of pregnancy-related causes at a higher rate than in any other high-income country, and non-Hispanic Black women are more than three times as likely to die of maternal causes than white women. According to one study, Black women are also 2.1 times more likely to experience severe maternal morbidity (SMM), or events that are considered “near misses,” which can have short- and long-term health impacts. Stories like those of Serena Williams, Beyoncé, Dr. Susan Moore, and countless others have highlighted the horrific impacts of racism on the American health care system and on the ability of Black women to safely deliver their children.
This year, Black Maternal Health Week activists are taking this discussion to the global arena to fight maternal mortality worldwide by calling on the United Nations to recognize April 11th as the International Day for Maternal Health and Rights. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that approximately 810 women died around the globe daily from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, amounting to 295,000 a year—with nearly all deaths (94 percent) occurring in low- and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs). According to WHO, the leading causes of maternal mortality are severe bleeding, infections, high blood pressure during pregnancy, complications from delivery, and unsafe abortion.
The Global Gag Rule only exacerbates the issue of maternal mortality in LMICs around the world that receive U.S. global assistance. By forcing health care providers to choose between providing the full range of reproductive health care, including safe abortion, or losing their United States funding, the Global Gag Rule threatens access to maternal health care for those in the direst of circumstances. Further, the policy prohibits the ability of advocates, providers, and patients to have real conversations regarding the consequences of unsafe abortion.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office audit on the Global Gag Rule, over two-thirds of the funding subject to the policy was for awards throughout Africa, with the highest impacted countries being South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. The report further noted that in cases where the Global Gag Rule limits access to abortion beyond a country’s legal framework, foreign NGOs are prohibited from providing such services, even with their own non-U.S. funds. The disproportionate impact of this neocolonial U.S. policy on Black women—and all women of color—around the world cannot go unnoticed as we work to address maternal mortality at home and abroad.
While it currently stands as an executive action that can be rescinded or reinstated by any sitting U.S. president, there is something we can do to repeal the Global Gag Rule once and for all. We must pass the Global HER Act so that no future president can unilaterally reinstate the policy. By doing so, we can work towards strengthening health systems that support maternal health care for people around the world. You can take action to support the Global HER Act right now by calling your elected officials and asking them to cosponsor it today!