Why Georgia is the most dangerous state for pregnant women

Published: Oct. 11, 2022 at 7:00 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Pregnancy and childbirth come with inherent risks, particularly if you’re a Black woman living in Georgia.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Georgia tops the list of states with the highest maternal mortality rate. For every 100,000 live births in Georgia, 46.1 women die during or in the months following childbirth. For Black women in Georgia, the rate is 66.6. That’s three times higher than the national average for all women.

“There’s not a simple answer why maternal mortality in Georgia is so high,” said Dr. Jose Cordero, a Patel Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the University of Georgia.

Cordero said when a woman dies during or up to a year after giving birth, it’s often because of a problem that proper care would’ve caught.

Studies have shown that with today’s women waiting later to have children, they sometimes start their pregnancies less healthy with chronic conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

“One of the challenges with maternal mortality, the major component, is access to care,” said Cordero, “and so the question is, ‘What about access to care is impacting more African Americans than other groups?’”

“If you’re a woman of color in this country, especially if you’re Black, your odds of dying in childbirth are three to four times higher on average in our country,” Dr. Neel Shah, a professor of obstetrics at Harvard Medical School, said during a CBS interview in 2018.

Shah said doctors don’t always listen to new mothers’ concerns, and he’s found that with some medical professionals, it’s because of racial prejudices.

“We [medical professionals] believe Black women less when they express concerns about the symptoms they’re having, particularly around pain,” Shah said.

For women of all ethnicities, the expense of childbirth and postpartum care is the problem. Emily Lewis gave birth to a daughter three months ago.

“I’m very fortunate,” said Lewis. “I have a really good friend that was in the hospital for two months after she had her child.”

Lewis qualified for Medicaid for Pregnant Women, “which helped significantly,” she said, “and that’s something that I feel like a lot of people don’t know about.”

The problem is her coverage will end soon.

“After that, I’m like, ‘What am I going to do?’ I can get put on my work insurance, but it’s very expensive, and I don’t make a whole lot of money,” she said.

Lewis said she wishes Georgia would expand the program. Currently, it lasts six months after the pregnancy ends.

“I think if they even just did it for a year, that would be so incredibly helpful,” she said.

Healthcare officials in Georgia apparently agree. Georgia is one of several states requesting an extension of postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year after childbirth.