Women’s Health Advocates Call on United States to Address Widespread Discrimination in Health Care

New report presented during U.S. review before United Nations committee exposes massive gaps in maternal health care, reproductive health services

(PRESS RELEASE) Women of color face significant obstacles in obtaining essential health care services in the United States, according to a new report jointly issued today by the Center for Reproductive Rights, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

The report—titled Reproductive Injustice: Racial and Gender Discrimination in US Health Care—identifies how racial discrimination in law and practice interferes with women’s fundamental human right to health, with a particular focus on the maternal health of Black women in the South and immigrant women’s access to reproductive health care. The organizations are calling on the United States to immediately implement key policy changes and proactive measures that would address these overlapping forms of discrimination against women of color and immigrant women.

The report is being presented this week in Geneva, Switzerland to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) during its periodic review of the United States’ commitments to ensure its residents have access to health care, free from all forms of racial discrimination.

Said Angela Hooton, state policy and advocacy director at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The clear discrimination and human rights violations that women of color face every day when trying to get essential—and sometimes life-saving—health care is undeniable when you hear their powerful and heartbreaking stories.

“For too long, these women, their families, and their communities have been shut out of this country’s health care system.  A woman’s race or immigration status should never determine whether she will survive childbirth or access critical cancer treatments. The United Nations must hold the U.S. government accountable for these grave injustices.”

Today’s report focuses on two specific areas of discrimination against women of color in the United States:

  • Black women nationwide are nearly four times as likely to die in childbirth as white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Maternal mortality is nothing short of a human rights crisis in the country, with the United States’ maternal mortality rate increasing by 136 percent between 1990 and 2013, which is nearly double the rate of Saudi Arabia and more than triple that of the United Kingdom according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Today’s report features several personal stories from Black women in Jackson, Miss. and Atlanta, Ga as they’ve attempted to access basic sexual and reproductive health care services—including prenatal and maternal care.  These two cities have some of the highest rates of maternal mortality and other racial health disparities in the country and the stories highlight the pervasive and often irreparable harm that takes place when discrimination in health care is commonplace.
  • Women without U.S. citizenship are three times as likely as U.S.-born citizens to lack private or public insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Federal and state policy has exacerbated coverage barriers for immigrant women and their families, with many programs excluding individuals based solely on their immigration status. Today’s report also features stories from a 2013 report from the Center and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health documenting the devastating human toll on Latinas and their families in the Rio Grande Valley community in the wake of Texas’s family planning program cuts.  The stories highlight the very real effect of the family planning cuts, with women unable to access basic reproductive health care and oftentimes left with undiagnosed or untreated illnesses.

“This report shines a bright light on the huge gaps that still exist when it comes to women’s rights and equality—gaps that are especially wide for women of color and immigrant women in the South,” said Katrina Anderson, senior human rights counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Rather than setting a high standard for the rest of the world to follow, the United States has for too long lagged far behind.

“It’s time for the U.S. government to take bold and immediate action to start to address the serious deficiencies that persist in this country’s health care system to ensure equal access to health care—free from racial and gender discrimination—to all women living within its borders.”

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a human rights treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994. The United States is required to submit periodic reports to the Committee on how its commitments are being implemented, including its obligation to ensure the right to health care is free from all forms of racial discrimination to all within its borders. The Committee, which undertakes a review of the U.S. record in implementing the ICERD from August 13-14 in Geneva, will issue recommendations to the U.S. government on how to eliminate racial discrimination in U.S. policy and practice to better reflect the government’s international commitments.

Today’s report by the Center for Reproductive Rights, SisterSong, and the National Latina Institute includes a number of policy recommendations, including:

  • Increasing health coverage for low-income women and improving access to reproductive and sexual health care, especially for women of color living in the 21 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion;
  • Taking proactive measures to reduce racial disparities in maternal mortality, including improving data collection on maternal health outcomes and strengthening accountability mechanisms for preventable maternal mortality; and
  • Repealing the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that exclude large categories of immigrants from coverage, which enact enormous barriers to immigrant women’s access to contraception, cancer screenings, and other forms of preventive health care.​