LA Senator Cassidy says maternal mortality rate isn’t that bad if you discount Black women

"If you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear,” Cassidy told Politico.

Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, which reports the nation’s second-worst maternal mortality rate, told Politico that the state’s “outlier” numbers are not as bad if you do not isolate the deaths of Black women during analysis.

“About a third of our population is African American; African Americans have a higher incidence of maternal mortality. So, if you correct our population for race, we’re not as much of an outlier as it’d otherwise appear,” Cassidy told Politico.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) leaves the Senate Chambers in the Capitol Building on August 02, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate has moved on to the amendments process this week for the legislative text of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which aims to improve roads, bridges, dams, climate resiliency and broadband Internet access. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In the United States, approximately 17 mothers in every 100,000 pregnancies die, with three Black mothers dying for every white mother, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Louisiana Department of Health, four Black mothers die for every white mother in the state.

“Now, I say that not to minimize the issue but to focus the issue as to where it would be. For whatever reason, people of color have a higher incidence of maternal mortality,” he continued.

The reason is “no mystery,” according to Michelle Williams, the dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health. “They are high because of the devastating impacts of structural racism and individual bias.” 

In her response to Cassidy’s comments, Williams cited institutionalized racism in the form of redlining practices which have deprived Black communities of access to generational wealth and critical resources including quality medical care, food and other health determinants.

“Another well-documented driver of disparities: During childbirth and recovery, as in other aspects of medical care, Black women have far too often been dismissed as complainers when they seek help for symptoms that can presage serious complications, such as shortness of breath or swelling legs,” she continued.

Cassidy, who supports overturning Roe v. Wade and defunding Planned Parenthood, said when asked how reversing the ruling would impact maternal mortality rates: “If we’re using abortion to limit maternal deaths, that’s kind of an odd way to approach the problem.”

Per NBC News, bans and restrictions on safe, legal abortions would impact maternal health in a multitude of ways.

“For one, if more pregnant people can’t get the abortions they seek, they’d shoulder the risk of the U.S.’s relatively high—and rising—rate of death from pregnancy-related causes, which is particularly elevated among people of color,” the outlet reported. 

“This is not a moment to quibble about how states are ranked,” wrote Williams in her response to Cassidy.

“It’s not a moment to correct for race. It’s a moment to assert that Louisiana — precisely because it has such a large population of Black women — must seize a leadership role in making pregnancy and childbirth safer for all.”

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