A joint study by three major women’s health advocacy groups calls attention to the overwhelming disparity in health outcomes for women of color in the United States. The results of the study are now under the consideration of the United Nations.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, and the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) released the report last week during the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s (CERD Committee) review of the United States in Geneva, Switzerland. The study found that African-American women are four times as likely to die in childbirth as their white counterparts. The data reflect that the problem is particularly astute in the US south. Citing the World Health Organization, the groups said the maternal mortality in the United States actually increased in the period between 1990 and 2013, doubling the mortality rate in Saudi Arabia, and tripling the United Kingdom.

Women without US citizenship were also three times less likely to have private or public health insurance, resulting in minimal to no access to comprehensive reproductive health care. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) preserved a 1996 restriction requiring non-citizens to wait five years before enrolling in Medicaid, with many still barred after obtaining lawful status. The study reported that even private exchanges are off-limits to undocumented persons under the ACA.  The organizations detailed how racial discrimination at the level of policy and implementation undermine women of color and migrant women’s fundamental human right to health.

The groups applauded the passage of the ACA and the domestic movement to expand Medicaid as steps in the right direction, but noted the strong political resistance even to these policy efforts.

“For too long, these women, their families, and their communities have been shut out of this country’s health care system,” said Angela Hooton, the state policy and advocacy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “A woman’s race or immigration status should never determine whether she will survive childbirth or access critical cancer treatments,” Hooton continued. “The United Nations must hold the US government accountable for these grave injustices.”

The UN CERD Committee is an independent body of  experts that monitors participating countries’ implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. In 2008, the committee “expressed concern about persistent disparities in sexual and reproductive health” and called on the US to “increase efforts to expand health insurance coverage, facilitate access to maternal health care and family planning, and improve sexuality education and information.”

Media Resources: Center for Reproductive Rights 8/13/14; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014

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