Black women who give birth in Los Angeles County are reportedly at three times the risk of maternal death. That’s the finding from a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which indicated that this statistic mirrors a pattern not only in California but across the nation. The rollback in access to abortion services could make this plague even worse.

The CDC study reports that about 80% of maternal deaths are preventable. That prevention means looking at inequality not only in healthcare, but also every domain of social experience. Research into maternal morbidity has indicated that racism in society has resulted in inadequate access to resources that support health as well as excessive exposure to social stress due to discrimination.

Locally, The African-American Infant and Maternal Mortality Prevention Initiative, along with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health–and various partners–have designed a multifaceted agenda to: (1) Take on the root causes of birth inequality by promoting income equity and challenging racism in health care; (2) Support Black families across birth and parenting experiences such as doula care, fatherhood support, home visiting, etc., and (3) Promote optimal medical care which would include anti-racism training for practitioners by virtue of the Black Maternal Health Center of Excellence operated by Charles Drew University in Watts.

The abortion issue is fully connected to the concern of Black maternal mortality. Black women are more likely to live in areas where there is a lack of available — and affordable — prenatal care. They find it harder to access contraception. And because of high rates of unintended pregnancy, Black women reportedly receive abortions at the highest rates compared to women of other races.

The CDC has reported that the factors that lead some Black women to seek abortions are present from the day theyt are born, often passed down from mother who faced similar plights. Those born into poverty are less likely to have access to healthcare, let alone reproductive or maternal healthcare. And when some Black women are able to seek help, they face medical racism.

State-level abortion restrictions are in place in at least eight states, and in total, 22 states have laws that impose very srict restrictions on abortion. These states are home to roughly 39 percent of the total U.S. population, yet an estimated 45 percent of Black women under 55 years reside in these locales, according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census.

Data from the CDC reveals that of the 629,898 abortions reported in 2019, Black women accounted for 38.4% of them. By comparison, White women made up 33.4% of those abortons.  Abortion rates were reportedly 3.6 times higher among Balck women when compared to White women. The disparity, reports the CDC, can be explained by inequities in rates of unintended pregnancies, as well as unequal access to quality family planning, economic disadvantage and a general distrust of the medical system.

In California, voters will decide on Proposition 1. If approved, California would become one of the first states — if not the first — to create explicit constitutional rights to both abortion and contraception. 

Lawmakers and activists behind the constitutional amendment said they hope to score a “one-two punch” — Protect abortion in Califonria after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade, and get ahead of what they see as the next front in the reproductive rights fight — birth control.

“The United States Supreme court said that the privacy and liberty protections in the United States Constitution did not extend to abortion,” said UCLA law professor Cary Franklin who testified before the California legislature in support of the amendment. “If they said ‘no’ on abortion, they’re probably going to say ‘no’ on birth control because that has a similar history.”

California already has some of the strongest contraceptive-access laws in the nation. Lawmakers are considering more proposals this year and beyond. An example are state-regulated health plans which must cover all FDA-approved contraception.

Pharmacists statewide are required to dispense emergency contraception to anyone with a prescription, regardless of age. They can also prescribe birth-control pills on the spot. State courts have also interpreted California’s constitution to include a right of privacy that covers reproductive health decisions.

Access to contraception like birth control and condoms reduce the rate at which women have unplanned pregnancies and seek abortions. Yet, Black women are more likely to reside in “contraception deserts” (areas where barriers to purchasing contraceptives are higher). As a result, according to CDC findings, Black women ages 15 to 49 years are less likely than other racial groups to use birth control regularly. They are also less likely to use prescription contraception, such as birth control pills and long-acting reversible contraceptives (e.g. IUD or a birth control arm implant).

Additional CDC data indicated that the racial gap in contraception access and use is rooted in social and structural racism and discrimination. First, it’s difficult to access prescription birth control without health insurance and, second, Black women and girls are uninsured at roughly twice the rate of White women and girls.

“Abortion is legal, safe and accessible here in California —- whether or not you live here, know that we have your back,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom. “As Republican states continue rolling back fundamental civil rights and even try to prevent people from accessing information online or crossing state lines for care, you’re welcome here in California and we’ll continue to fight like hell for you.”

Our Weekly coverage of local news in Los Angeles County is supported by the Ethnic  Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.

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