Bearing the Burden of Injustice: Black Maternal Mortality

Mother and babyWhen it comes to maternal mortality, American women don’t all live in the same country. While white women live in Qatar, black women live in Mongolia.

Maternal mortality is death related to complications from pregnancy or childbirth. Most of us don’t come from a time or place where the prospect of dying in childbirth is a tangible possibility — in the past century, as medicine has advanced, maternal mortality rates have plummeted.


To raise healthy families, we need access to general and reproductive health care, including preventive care, prenatal care, and maternity care.


The United States, though, hasn’t come as far as would be expected. Although its wealth should have put it on par with other developed nations like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and those in Scandinavia, women in these countries fare far better than those in the United States. So do women in Libya, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Bulgaria, and Kazakhstan, indicating that national priorities — and not necessarily national wealth — are key to ensuring maternal health.

The United States’ high maternal mortality rate is heartbreaking no matter how you look at it, but is even worse for women of color. African-American women are 3.5 times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth than white women. Between 2011 and 2013, the maternal mortality rate for white women was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. Comparing that to 2015 data from the World Health Organization (WHO), that rate puts white women’s maternal mortality on par with mothers in Qatar and Bahrain, two wealthy Persian Gulf nations. African-American women, however, suffered 43.5 deaths per 100,000 live births, putting their maternal mortality on par with those of Turkmenistan, Brazil, and Mongolia. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Photo: Lauren Walker

    A proud announcement to start the rundown this week: We are NOT backing down in our fight to expand access to abortion, birth control, and reproductive health care across the country! (ABC News)

  • If you’re searching for abortion care, be VERY careful using Google Maps — you might end up at a crisis pregnancy center instead of a legit clinic. Ugh! (Gizmodo)
  • One of the most problematic industries in modern times, for-profit health insurers, are denying coverage to people taking PrEP, which dramatically reduces the risk of contracting HIV. Awfully ironic, isn’t it? Being conscientious of your health and taking steps to avoid transmission of a deadly virus make you undesirable to insurance companies. WTF. (Jezebel)
  • The New York Times published a highly informative op-ed about how teenage mothers are infantilized after giving birth, and it is a must-read. (NYT)
  • Social conservatives in the U.S. have strong and largely unpopular views on sexuality and reproductive behaviors. When they can’t sway public opinion, they turn to restrictions and prohibitions to impose their views on others. Why they can’t simply live by their own values and then mind their own freakin’ business is beyond me. Truly. (Guttmacher)
  • Buzzfeed proclaimed “Republicans Need Women Voters To Keep Control Of Congress. The Latest White House Response to Abuse Allegations Isn’t Helping.” But my question is, will white women really care at the polls? Like, really? Pardon me for being skeptical due to their history. (Buzzfeed)
  • Hearing women’s voice is so important, and this riveting op-ed from the daughter of a physically, verbally, emotionally, and financially abusive father highlights just why access to birth control is essential for women. This should NOT be a controversial issue! (Juneau Empire)
  • The ACLU is fighting an Ohio law banning abortion for fetuses with Down Syndrome. (NPR)
  • The Trump budget cuts millions in funds for HIV/AIDS programs because this is what thugs like him enjoy doing. Harming the sick, poor, brown, and marginalized. (HuffPo)
  • When I was a clinic escort for Planned Parenthood, I was constantly race-baited by the protesters who lurked outside our health center. As a Black woman, I was shamed for the alleged racism of Margaret Sanger. I was told that “the most dangerous place for a black child was in the womb.” I was questioned about why Black women abort more than white women. And SO much more. But something I literally NEVER heard the “pro-life” set crowing about? Why Black infants die so much more frequently than white infants. It’s almost as if they don’t care about these babies once they’re no longer incubating. Imagine if the people who proclaim to love babies and children put their staunch advocacy behind saving the lives of children who are actually born? Will we ever see their care and concern for fetuses extend to born babies and children?? (The Nation)

STD Awareness: The HIV Epidemic at Home

In the United States, we understand HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — using a common narrative, one that gives us the impression that its deadliest chapters belong in decades past or distant places. It goes like this:

The disease emerged in the 1980s, cutting down young gay men in their primes and blindsiding scientists as they scrambled to unravel the virus’ mysteries. While AIDS initially whipped up mass hysteria among the general public, LGBTQ folks demanded equality, pushing to find treatments and a cure. AIDS activism and scientific research eventually led to the development of antiretroviral drugs, which tamed the plague by turning a death sentence into a chronic disease. Now, with the right medication, people with HIV can live long, healthy lives. The hysteria has died down, as most people realize viral transmission is preventable, and the infection is manageable.

One thing hasn’t changed, however: Just as it was in the 1980s, AIDS is still thought of as a disease of the “other.” Back then, it was a disease of gay men, a population cruelly marginalized by the general public. Today, it’s thought of as a disease of sub-Saharan Africa, where HIV prevalence is highest.

That narrative, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. Right here in our own backyards, the HIV epidemic continues to spread in the face of chilling indifference from those not affected. African-American MSM — men who have sex with men, who may or may not self-identify as gay or bisexual — have an HIV prevalence that exceeds that of any country in the world. In Swaziland, for example, 27 percent of adults are living with HIV/AIDS, but if current transmission rates hold steady, half of African-American MSM are projected to be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. Instead of taking this projection as a wake-up call to invest in lifesaving health policies, however, state and federal responses are poised to let it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Contrary to racist and homophobic stereotypes, data show that black MSM aren’t more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior, use drugs and alcohol, or withhold their HIV status from partners. So why are they burdened with higher HIV rates? The answer lies beyond mere behavior, embedded in policies and practices that disproportionately harm people based on race, sexuality, and geography. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • I’ve talked about the high rates of maternal mortality among black women many times on this blog before. Yet still I was surprised and horrified to hear that Serena Williams, a woman with significant privilege and resources, could have easily ended up a statistic after the near-death experience she had giving birth to her daughter. (Vice)
  • The crude and overt racist in the White House made some truly abhorrent comments last week, condemning countries and continents with majority black populations as “s**thole countries” while wondering aloud why more people from places like “Norway” don’t immigrate to the U.S. Well, Slate has delved into the differences between how our country treats women and families and how Norway treats women and families, and it’s enlightening to say the least. (Slate)
  • Our xenophobe-in-chief is also “poised to overhaul the HHS civil rights office as part of a broader plan to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients seeking to transition or provide other services for which they have religious or moral objections.” I have a moral objection to health workers not wanting to treat other human beings who need health care! Health care is a basic human right! (Politico)
  • College campuses in California could see expanded access to abortion for its students. A first-of-its-kind bill in the California legislature would require student health centers at California public colleges and universities to dispense medication abortion. (Rewire)
  • The California story is good news because more and more information is emerging to show that medication abortions are safe and effective, and have very low rates of complications. (The Lily)
  • Some other potential good news: Arizona could become the 10th state to bar mental-health professionals from practicing “conversion therapy,” making attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. A new bill was introduced into the Legislature last Friday, and we hope with all our hearts it passes! (AZ Central)
  • The Trump administration is determined to push Title X off the rails and once again, the health care of millions of citizens is at risk. (The Hill)
  • Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican weasel who considers himself “pro-life” (so much so that he has never fostered or adopted any children in need), recently urged us to “have more babies,” but is still playing hardball over funding health insurance for children who’ve already been born. The Democrats need to take a stand and stop.this.madness. Period. (Splinter News)
  • When the likes of Mr. Ryan and other opponents of “entitlements” slash assistance for families in need, everyone suffers as a result. Recent research out of the University of Kansas shows a direct link between a family’s ability to access government assistance, such as TANF, and foster care cases. (Rewire)
  • After losing several court battles in relation to their attempts to bar undocumented immigrant teenage girls from having abortions, the the Trump DOJ has showed its cruel and vindictive true colors. They recently tried to reveal an undocumented teen’s abortion to an uncle who threatened to “beat her” if she terminated her pregnancy. The fact that these people are monsters should be lost on no one at this point. They are fully aware this girl is under a direct threat of violence and instead of protecting her, they’re intentionally putting her at risk of physical harm from an abusive family member. They want this girl punished for having the abortion they tried to prevent. This should chill you to the bone, folks. Seriously. (Slate)

Best of the Blog: 2017 Edition

It’s been a rough year. Ever since the 45th president was inaugurated in January, we have been pushing back against attempts to overturn the rights of women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, people of color, and other marginalized populations. Racist and xenophobic voices have been emboldened by an administration that validates their hatred and minimizes their violence. It feels like the progress we’ve been making in advancing reproductive justice, gay rights, trans rights, and voters’ rights has stopped dead in its tracks.

But 2017 was also a year that shook many people out of their complacency — and re-energized longtime activists. January’s Women’s March may have been the largest protest in our nation’s history. Throughout the year, we rose up and shut down Republican attempts to destroy Obamacare, setting the stage for November, when enrollment records were shattered. A year after the gut punch of the 2016 presidential election, women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, and immigrants enjoyed well-earned victories across the nation in the 2017 elections. We need to keep working — staying on this trajectory can turn the tide in the 2018 midterm elections if we take control back from the legislative branch and douse the executive ego with a bucket of ice-cold water.

Our bloggers have been with us every step of the way, whether they are on the front lines of the fight to keep lifesaving laws intact and hold our culture accountable for its multifaceted bigotry, or helping to keep members of the resistance (and everyone else) healthy, informed, and compassionate in this new era.

Rachel kept close track of Republicans’ attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act throughout the year. Pre-ACA, insurance policies could employ sex-based discrimination, refuse coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, kick people off their plans, and not cover essential services that keep people healthy. Each attempt revealed its creators’ wish list for destroying health care. In 2017, our activism worked, but the fight isn’t over, and we must remain vigilant. Stay tuned throughout 2018!

Matt has been watching the growing, right-wing extremism at the crossroads of racism and misogyny, a subject he covers in his response to the violent events in Charlottesville in August. Matt’s piece explores a political force that has put racial hatred on full display, but also one where misogyny resonates in a culture of disaffected — and often dangerous — men. We need to be intersectional as we fight for justice for everyone who is marginalized by white supremacist extremism.

Amanda observed American Heart Month by sharing the story of the sudden, heartbreaking death of her mother, who lost her life to a heart attack. As you mull over New Years resolutions, consider that heart disease is a top killer in the United States, but you can make lifestyle changes to help prevent it. The best gift for those you hold closest to your heart is to keep your heart healthy and strong, and Planned Parenthood Arizona provides care to help you maintain your heart’s health!

Gene made a slight departure from the blog’s mission to provide good guidance for readers to take care of their sexual health — his favorite post highlighted some of the most ridiculous things you could do for your sexual health. Whether he was lampooning stick-on condom alternatives, labia-sealing tampon alternatives, or egg-shaped rocks made to be inserted into the vagina, Gene took on some of the Internet’s looniest ideas surrounding sexual health and the human body.

Anna has been writing about sexually transmitted infections since 2011, and has become increasingly sensitive to the stigma surrounding these infections — and how people often internalize that stigma. Pairing STDs with fear and guilt has compromised medical care for generations. Folks who worry that the HPV vaccine or pre-exposure prophylaxis encourage promiscuity borrow century-old arguments from opponents of condoms, antibiotics, and other STD prevention methods. We think you’ll learn a ton of fascinating tidbits from this article!

Anne traveled all the way to Washington, DC, to meet lawmakers and represent the one woman out of every three who has had (or will have) an abortion. In a country that is becoming increasingly hostile to reproductive rights, we need people like Anne to put a face on abortion, a legal medical procedure that most of us have colluded to keep taboo. As Anne put it, “We were all darned tired of being characterized by ignorant anti-abortion advocates as shadowy, irresponsible, hypothetical women. We’re real people.”

Serena observed National American Indian Heritage Month by shining a spotlight on the little-known, shameful history of forced sterilization of Native American women. More recently, Native women’s control over their fertility has been further impeded by the Indian Health Service’s inconsistent access to emergency contraception and refusal to provide access to abortion. The ability to control our own bodies is essential to our dignity and self-determination, and it must not be abridged, whether it is interfering with our ability to have children or our ability to prevent or discontinue pregnancy.

Pride paradeCare observed Pride Month by remembering Pride’s roots. For a lot of us, Pride means parades and parties, but these annual celebrations didn’t originate that way — Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Riots, which erupted 48 years ago. Care explains why the current political climate makes remembering Pride’s roots of the utmost importance. We need to stay vigilant, because when it comes to keeping and expanding the rights of LGBTQ people, and ensuring their safety and dignity, we’re all in this together.

Harvey MilkKelley, Planned Parenthood employee and honorary blogger, celebrated Pride Month by introducing us to Harvey Milk, whose call to LGBTQ people to “come out” led to a seismic societal shift, as hearts and minds were connected through empathy and storytelling. Today, we’re calling on you to take the torch of pioneers like Harvey Milk and keep fighting for LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice — for human dignity, bodily autonomy, and love.

The Racial and Reproductive Justice of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1967. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, almost half a million people descended on Washington, D.C., in what the Washington Post called “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” The Women’s March was held to protest the election of a highly unpopular president, who had been exposed in the months leading up to the election as someone who insulted the appearance and intelligence of women, boasted of his aggressive sexual advances toward others, and vowed to nominate a Supreme Court judge who would roll back women’s access to abortion. In D.C., and at solidarity marches around the nation and the world, people arrived for a massive show of support for women’s rights and reproductive justice.


Thurgood Marshall was a “great champion of intersecting struggles against racism and sexism.”


Actor Chadwick Boseman, who was on the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, a movie based on the first black superhero featured in mainstream comics, took a break from filming that morning to tweet, “Shooting Black Panther on a Saturday. But my heart is at the Women’s March.” It was a fitting sentiment for an actor who had also been cast to star in Marshall, the recently released biopic about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

While Marshall was known foremost for his role in important civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, as well as for becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice some 50 years ago this month, he was also an influential figure in the history of reproductive justice. While the biopic focuses on his early career, when he handled a 1941 case involving a black defendant facing racially charged allegations and a prejudiced criminal justice system, it was not until more than three decades after that case — and more than five years after his swearing in to the Supreme Court — that Marshall became a fixture in the history of abortion rights in the U.S. Continue reading

After Charlottesville: The Role of Gender-Based Hatred in White Nationalism

Memorial at the site of Heather Heyer’s death. Photo courtesy of Tristan Williams Photography, Charlottesville.

Like many people, I spent the weekend of August 12 and 13 glued to the news coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists had descended with torches and swastikas for a Unite the Right rally, prompted by the community’s moves to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. At home I watched photos and articles fill my Facebook feed. At the recreation center where I work out, I watched network news on the wall-mounted TV.


The synergy between race- and gender-based hatred has deep roots in the United States.


Hostility toward racial diversity was the driving force behind the rally — and it showed in the racial makeup of the crowds of people chanting Nazi slogans like “Sieg heil” and “blood and soil” — but I also noticed a serious lack of gender diversity as photos and videos circulated. Women were few and far between. However much I kept seeing it, though, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I grew up half Asian in a very white community, so seeing the dynamics of race has always come easily to me — and they were taking obvious form in Charlottesville. Having grown up cis-male, though, I don’t always catch the dynamics of gender on the first pass.

Then Monday came, and I was reminded, once again, of how gender played out at the Unite the Right rally. I read news that a white nationalist website, the Daily Stormer, was losing its domain host due to comments it published about the violence in Charlottesville. Continue reading