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GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy Pretty Sure LA Maternal Mortality Rate Not So Bad If You Ignore Dead Black Folks
Yeah, those were words that came out of the Louisiana senator's mouth.
Early this month, in anticipation of Roe v. Wade’s demise, Louisiana Republicans advanced one of the nation’s most restrictive forced birth bills. The new law wouldn’t simply target abortion providers or anyone who helps facilitate the procedure; prosecutors could also criminally charge patients with homicide.
Louisiana was hardly the safest place for pregnant people prior to this bill passing. The state has the worst maternal mortality rate in the country. Roughly 58 mothers die for every 100,000 births. Louisiana released a report blaming high incidence of obesity and smoking among the dead mothers, but also conceded that maybe the state could improve its medical care.
Last week, GOP Senator Bill Cassidy massaged these alarming figures in the most repulsive way imaginable. He told Politico:
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.
We need to correct the racism in Cassidy’s statement, which is dehumanizing garbage. Black mothers aren’t three-fifths Louisiana residents. The state has a horrible record of maternal mortality, period.
Cassidy, who’s a medical doctor, continued digging: “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.”
Black Louisianans die at four times the rate of their white counterparts. This is not some random, fluke occurrence or implied racial inferiority. Dr. Veronica Gillispie, an OB-GYN and medical director of Louisiana’s Perinatal Quality Collaborative, directly links the disparity to “implicit bias and structural racism.”
Nikki Hunter Greenaway, a nurse who specializes in making home visits, says she's seen Black patients sent home with high blood pressure or preeclampsia, but with no blood pressure cuff.
When she convinced one patient, who had a blood pressure reading of 183, to go to the hospital, she was sent home with medication, but no follow-up plan, no referral to a cardiologist, Greenaway said.
“And I'm like, do they want her to die?”
Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman from New Jersey is herself a Black mother, and called out Cassidy’s callous remarks in a scorching Twitter thread:
GOP elected officials like Sen. Cassidy have no desire to dismantle these inequities — it’s easier for them to ignore them. Because dismantling health inequities means acknowledging systemic racism, and it’s against his best interests to do that. (4/8)
— Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (@Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman) 1653163437
COLEMAN: Due to structural inequities built into our health care system, Black mothers are 3 times as likely to die due to complications from pregnancy than white mothers. In Louisiana, that number jumps to 4.
GOP elected officials like Sen. Cassidy have no desire to dismantle these inequities — it’s easier for them to ignore them. Because dismantling health inequities means acknowledging systemic racism, and it’s against his best interests to do that.
Despite his dismissive remarks, Cassidy did co-sponsor legislation this year that would study racial health disparities. However, Cassidy still insists that Louisiana defines maternal deaths too broadly, which he thinks explains the appallingly high death rates for Black mothers.
“Sometimes maternal mortality includes up to a year after birth and would include someone being killed by her boyfriend,” Cassidy said. “In my mind, it’s better to restrict your definition to that which is the perinatal, if you will — the time just before and in the subsequent period after she has delivered.”
Someone isn’t a mother for only a “subsequent period” after they’ve delivered. It’s a lifetime gig. Louisiana should focus instead on improving outcomes for willing mothers of all races before forcing more vulnerable people to give birth against their will.
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