According to a survey released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five women were abused while receiving medical care for their last pregnancy.
The women reported signs of abuse, including verbal abuse, unanswered requests for help, invasions of their privacy and threats to refuse treatment.
About 2,400 women were interviewed. Of the 20% of women who reported being abused, 30% were black, 29% were Hispanic, 27% were multiracial, 19% were white, 18% were Native American/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 15% were Asian.
Twenty-eight percent of women without medical insurance and 26% with public insurance said they had been abused, compared to 16% with private insurance.
“As a doctor, mother and black woman, it is disheartening to hear how common abuse is and to see the differences in abuse and discrimination during maternity care based on factors such as race and insurance coverage,” said Wanda Barfield, director of the CDC’s reproductive health division. . “We know that racism and discrimination can lead to delays in treatment and sometimes tragic and preventable deaths.”
Additionally, nearly a third of those surveyed said they had experienced discrimination during their maternity care, based on their age, weight, income, race and ethnicity.
The survey did not examine the race of health care providers.
Forty-five percent of respondents said they were hesitant to approach their supplier with questions or concerns during maternity care. They cited reasons such as thinking or being told by friends or family members that what was bothering them was normal, not wanting to be seen as difficult or making a fuss or feeling embarrassed, or thinking that their supplier seemed in a hurry.
To combat these findings, the CDC recommends that healthcare systems hire a diverse workforce and communicate more effectively with patients.
Barfield said at a press conference that the report was unable to conclude whether the results are directly related to maternal mortality rates. In 2021, around 1,200 women died from maternity-related causes, a 40% spike from the previous year and one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country’s history.
“This study doesn’t really reflect that,” Barfield said. “And I think a lot more needs to be done to better understand those causes. But we know from this study that women are reluctant to report their concerns. And we know that by not reporting their concerns, there can be may be an increased risk of pregnancy-related complications for both mother and baby.”
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