Georgia Tops all Fifty States in Maternal Mortality Rate – Particularly for Black Women
Abortions are banned in Georgia after six weeks. Exceptions to this rule are to save the mother’s life; if the fetus is not expected to live; if the preganancy threatens the mother’s physical health and/or if the pregnancy arose from rape or incest. Patients are required to wait 24 hours after seeking an abortion unless doing so will impact the mother’s life or health. Patients under 17 must have parental approval. Minors have to request a judicial bypass to avoid this rule. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder calculated what effect abortion restrictions would have on maternal morbidity by state. Researchers predicted that Georgia will have a 29% increase in maternal mortality. Georgia already has the highest maternal mortality rate of all the fifty states, with 46.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and for Black women that number in Georgia is 66.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.
Maternal health care is a basic human right that should be available to every woman. However, in the United States, the maternal health crisis disproportionately affects Black women, particularly those living in rural areas. Georgia has the highest rate of rate of maternal mortality for Black women. This disparity is due in large part to the decades-old state regulatory system that gives rural Black Georgians less access to maternity care. As abortion access is restricted, more women, particularly Black women, are expected to die due to lack of access to maternal health care.
In Georgia, state regulations make it difficult for small, rural hospitals to offer obstetric care, which disproportionately affects Black women who are more likely to live in rural areas. These hospitals must meet strict regulatory requirements to provide obstetric care, including having a certain number of births per year and hiring specialized staff. These requirements are difficult for small rural hospitals to meet, leaving many Black women in these areas without access to maternity care.
Moreover, the state’s Certificate of Need (CON) program, which was designed to prevent the overbuilding of health care facilities and ensure access to care, has had the opposite effect. The program requires hospitals to prove a need for a new service, such as obstetric care, before they can offer it. This requirement has made it difficult for small hospitals to add or maintain obstetric services, particularly in rural areas where there are fewer people to justify the need for the service. As a result, many rural Black Georgians have to travel long distances to access maternity care, which can be both costly and dangerous in emergency situations.
The lack of access to maternity care for Black Georgians is not a new issue. For decades, Black women in Georgia have faced a range of systemic barriers that have made it difficult for them to receive quality care during pregnancy and childbirth. These barriers include poverty, racism, and lack of access to health care. The state regulatory system has only made it more difficult for Black Georgians to access the care they need.
Two thirds of Georgians oppose restrictive abortion laws. Yet lawmakers continue to pursue an unpopular agenda. If nothing else, Georgia must reform its state regulatory system to make it easier for small rural hospitals to offer obstetric care. This includes revising the CON program to make it easier for hospitals to add or maintain obstetric services. Additionally, the state should consider providing financial incentives to encourage hospitals to provide obstetric care in rural areas. Finally, the state should invest in programs that support maternal health, such as Medicaid expansion and community health worker programs.
The combination of abortion restriction and inadequate access to maternal health threatens the lives of women in Georgia – particularly Black women. Georgia’s decades-old state regulatory system has contributed to this crisis by giving rural Black Georgians less access to maternity care. Addressing this crisis will require reforms to the state regulatory system and investments in programs that support maternal health. By taking action, Georgia can ensure that every woman, regardless of race or location, has access to the care she needs during pregnancy and childbirth.