Liberals believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to become pregnant or not. This right includes access to sex education, birth control and legal abortion. But if the right to choose is to be fully realized, it should include the right to have a child and ensure the child is well cared for.
The United States in general, and my home city of Rochester, NY, in particular, have an unusually high rate of infant mortality, especially among poor African-American women. It’s not quite as bad as the statistics indicate, because the USA counts as infant deaths what many other industrial countries count as miscarriages. But even taking that into account, it’s pretty bad.
If you break down the figures, the American problem is mainly a high infant mortality rate among African-Americans. In 2010, 614 out of every 100,000 American babies died in the first year of life. Broken down by race, the rate per 100,000 was 1,146 black babies, 518 non-Hispanic white babies and 528 Hispanic babies.
This is partly due to lack of good medical care and advice, and partly due to a much higher rate of premature births among African-American mothers. Nobody is sure why African American women have more premature births, but one factor is stress. Women in Medicaid, single mothers and mothers whose husbands are deployed in the military are more likely to have premature births.
Some people think that the stress of racism is a factor. I would not dismiss that idea out of hand. I’ve felt extremely self-conscious on occasions when I was the only white person in the room, and I have often wondered what it would be like to be black and have to deal with this feeling all the time.
Immigrant black women have fewer premature births than native-born black women, which supports the theory, although, as the third chart indicates, immigrant white women also have fewer premature births. Another fact that supports the stress theory is there is the same disparity between upper-class black and white mothers as among the poor.
My city of Rochester, NY, is known for medical research and excellent medical care. Back in the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton visited to praise Rochester’s community-rated health insurance. But the figures indicate that our city as a whole, and our African-American residents are much worse and that, for some reason, the infant mortality rate among Hispanics is unusually high.
The infant mortality rate in Monroe County is reported 1,420 per 100,000 births for African-Americans, 1,170 for Hispanics and 450 for whites. The infant mortality rate in the city of Rochester is also 1,170 per 100,000, but 420 in the predominantly white Monroe County suburbs.
I don’t see anything obvious to be done about the stress of racism, but there is a lot that can be done to make sure pregnant women and new mothers get medical help and adequate nutrition.
The infant mortality rate is going down, although slowly, and there are programs that have made dramatic improvements, such as Kaiser Permanente Northeast California Early Start, Syracuse’s Health Start and the University of Rochester’s Baby Love. The Affordable Care Act includes the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which provides grants for such local programs.
It seems to me that if you believe in women’s right to choose, the right to choice does not end at birth. If you believe in the right to life, the right to life does not end at birth, either. Preventing deaths of infants in childbirth should be a purpose all Americans support.