America Is Blaming Pregnant Women for Their Own Deaths

In Healthcare On

. . .

I’ve been thinking lately about the remarkable ways in which American women continue to be devalued and disempowered through the prism of motherhood, even as we insist on the pre-eminence of mothers’ status. Alabama voters have just approved a constitutional amendment recognizing “fetal personhood,” a measure that could be used to further curtail the rights of pregnant women in favor of the safety of fetuses.

Seventy years ago, Simone de Beauvoir wrote that pregnancy can be both “an enrichment and a mutilation”; the mother “feels as vast as the world, but this very richness annihilates her — she has the impression of not being anything else.”

For experts studying the United States’ maternal mortality and injury rates — which are estimated to far surpass those in other developed countries — and for women in labor, the failure to treat mothers as people is neither antiquated nor dystopian, but absolutely pressing.

In September, USA Today published a major investigation into recent efforts to curb maternal death rates. A number of states have assigned panels of experts to review what went wrong in cases where mothers die. This sounds promising. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked — rates have continued to rise — and the reason is hard to fathom.

“At least 30 states have avoided scrutinizing medical care provided to mothers who died, or they haven’t been studying deaths at all,” the newspaper said. “Instead, many state committees emphasized lifestyle choices and societal ills in their reports on maternal deaths. They weighed in on women smoking too much or getting too fat or on their failure to seek prenatal medical care.” Mothers, it seems, in addition to being held solely responsible for every facet of their child’s well-being, are also being held responsible for their own deaths.

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