The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released the United States’ maternal mortality statistics for 2020, which show an alarming worsening of maternal health during the first year of the pandemic. Up from approximately 20 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019, the maternal mortality rate is now nearly 24 deaths per 100,000 births, meaning that nearly 1,000 women total died of maternal causes in the United States in a calendar year.
As usual, these numbers mask the glaring racial disparities driving the rate increases. Black women continue to bear the brunt of this crisis: the maternal mortality rate for Black women increased from 44 to over 55 deaths per 100,000 live births (a 26 percent jump), which is three times the rate for white women.
In response to the news, Dr. Jamila Taylor, director of health care reform at The Century Foundation and one of the nation’s leading maternal health experts, released the following statement:
“The United States has long suffered an inexplicable maternal mortality crisis: new data released today show that the crisis just got worse, particularly for Black women. No mother should have to fear for her life when giving birth, yet in the U.S. hundreds of women die each year due to maternal causes, and many of these deaths are preventable. The deeply disturbing increase in the maternal mortality rate in 2020 demonstrates the maternal health crisis Black women and birthing people face, a situation that is particularly dire as it overlaps with the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also particularly deadly for Black women.
“In 2020, the mortality rate for Black women rose by 26 percent, to 55 deaths for every 100,000 live births—a rate three times that of white women. Overall maternal mortality rates also rose, to 23.8 deaths per 100,000, up from 20 deaths per 100,000 the previous year. Hispanic women saw the largest maternal mortality increase, rising by a staggering 44 percent in just one year. By comparison, the overall maternal mortality rate in Canada is just 8 deaths per 100,000 live births, roughly seven times lower than what Black women in the U.S. experience.
“The statistics in this report, of course, cannot capture the tragic loss and human toll that these numbers represent. Pregnancy should be a time filled with joy and celebration, but our Black moms are too often fearing—and fighting—for their lives when giving birth. These new data are not just tragic; they represent a complete policy and societal failure that we must address. Although important progress has been made in the first year of the Biden-Harris administration to address the maternal health crisis, especially for Black women, the CDC’s report is a clarion call for how much work remains to be done.
“The Senate must prioritize the maternal health investments included in the currently stalled version of the Build Back Better Act. These funding provisions, originally introduced in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus, would make critical improvements to maternal health through strengthening the perinatal workforce, addressing the social determinants of health, investing in community-based organizations, and so much more. This funding must also be paired with mandatory and permanent extension of Medicaid to one year postpartum.
“No mother should fear for her life at a time that should be full of joy. We are letting women, especially Black women, needlessly die. They deserve better, and we must act.”
For more information about America’s Black maternal health crisis, see TCF’s previous work here:
Note: Throughout this statement we refer to women, rather than the more inclusive categorization of women and all other birthing people, in order to reflect language used by the CDC.