Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke tells voters systemic racism is killing black mothers and babies

Beto O'Rourke
Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke who is one of several 2020 Democrat presidential candidates, speaks at the National Action Network convention in New York City on Wednesday April 3, 2019. |

NEW YORK — Former Texas representative and 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told black voters Wednesday that systemic racism is partly responsible for black mothers and their infants dying at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

Speaking to a predominantly African American audience at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network convention at the Sheraton Times Square hotel, O’Rourke said that even when women of color have access to health care their lives and that of their infants continue to be impacted by systemic racism.

“We have an infant mortality discrepancy between white and black America that is worse today than it was in 1850, 15 years before the abolition of slavery,” he said.

Infant mortality, according to the CDC, is the death of an infant before his or her first birthday. The infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births.

“We have a maternal mortality crisis in this country. It is three times as deadly for women of color,” O’Rourke continued.

“And it is not just owing to the fact that we do not have universal health care for every American, which we must. And it’s not just to blame on the state of Texas, the epicenter of the maternal mortality crisis that has shut down more than a quarter of its family planning clinics, denied so many women the right to a cervical cancer screening, family planning help or a provider of any kind,” he said.

“It is the way that this country was founded. It is the system in which these women are living right now. The daily weathering that they endure when even they are able to get health care, it is not sufficient, it is not enough and it only begins to help to explain these discrepancies,” he said.

A year ago, The New York Times reported that in 1850, when babies died so often parents regularly waited a year before naming them, the black infant-mortality rate was 340 per 1,000, while for whites, the rate was 217 per 1,000. Recent government data now shows that black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die when compared with white infants despite advances in medical care. Some 11.3 black babies die per 1,000, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies.

The CDC says more than 22,000 infants died in the United States in 2017. The five leading causes of infant death in 2017 were listed as: birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, maternal pregnancy complications, sudden infant death syndrome, and injuries.

The Maternal  Health Task Force at the Harvard Chan School, also noted that black women in America die at a rate that ranges from three to four times the rate of their white counterparts — 42 deaths per 100,000 live births among black women versus 12 deaths per 100,000 live births among white women as of 2010. It is a disparity that has remained unchanged for the past six decades.

After much lobbying from activists, such as Charles Johnson IV, son of TV Judge Glenda Hatchett who lost his wife, Kira, at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after a scheduled C-section more than two years ago, Congress unanimously approved a bill that was signed into law by President Donald Trump last December to investigate America’s growing maternal mortality rate.

The bill, H.R. 1318, Preventing Maternal Deaths Act of 2017, reauthorizes, amends, and expands the Safe Motherhood initiative within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including authorizing support for State and Tribal Maternal Mortality Review Committees that meet certain requirements.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., who is one of the original sponsors of the bill, dedicated it to the “mothers who we have lost,” such as Johnson’s wife, when Congress passed the bill last year.

Beutler explained that the U.S. is ranked 47th globally for maternal mortality, and has a record on the issue that is worse than Iran’s.

“Many are shocked to learn that the U.S. has not only the worst maternal mortality rate in the entire developed world but that these rates are on the rise. Seriously folks, we’re worse than Iran,” she said.

“Every year between 700 and 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States and I’ve seen tears brought to the eyes of many a colleague when they learn that over 60 percent of these deaths could have been prevented, according to the CDC,” she explained.

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