Women in the United States are not protected. The Constitution pledges and ensures ‘safety’ and ‘security,’ but the government has failed to live up to its promises in their failure to protect women’s health, especially their reproductive health. Lack of attention to this issue has resulted in discrimination against African American women; many factors contribute to the overall inequality African American women face when it comes to reproductive health. These ‘factors of inequality’ or essentially this ‘lack of protection’ has caused millions of African American women to suffer. The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, notes that when it comes to childbirth, “Black mothers in the U.S die at three to four times the rate of white mothers, one of the largest of all racial disparities in women’s health.” Maternal mortality is just one example on a long list of how the health of African American women is underprotected. Compared to white women, African American women receive far less health support by clinics, doctors, and nurses. In many communities there is no local support and no education on reproductive health. In areas where support is provided, many women report that their concerns are dismissed or ignored by health professionals. Additionally, there are many women who don’t have access to any form of birth control, resulting in high rates of unplanned pregnancies, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases. These are not ‘new’ issues. In fact, as the CDC observes, “the root causes stem from a long history of racism and discrimination, including lack of access to high-quality, affordable health insurance and care and for some, a lingering distrust of the medical community.”
Racially-based mistreatment towards women began to come to the forefront around 1865. To this day, it remains a severe problem in the United States. The CDC estimated that around 58 percent of enslaved women between the ages of 15-30 years old were sexually assaulted by their white slave owners. Because the law regarded African American women as property it ensured that they had no rights. Throughout history African American women didn’t see much change. In 1977 the Hyde Amendment targeted African American women making it even harder for them to have control over their body; banning federal funding for almost all abortions resulting in the procedure becoming too expensive for many women. Even in 2019 oppression is still very present; to quote the National Library of Medicine and Health (PMC), “Racism still persists in institutions (criminal justice system), and attitudes that marginalize African American women. For this reason, a historical analysis might shed light on how current sexual and reproductive health outcomes for African American women are shaped by racism and inform public health interventions to improve outcomes and promote health equity.”
In 2017, the famous tennis player Serena Williams shared her personal story about giving birth. Her experience shed light on the discrimination African American women face in regard to their pre- and postnatal health. Williams underwent an emergency cesarean section in September 2017. The operation went perfectly. However, complications developed the morning after surgery. Williams had a history of blood clots, but before her operation she had to stop taking blood thinners in order for her surgical wound to heal properly. Two days after giving birth, Williams woke up gasping. She flagged down a nurse and, according to a CNN report, insisted “She needed an IV with heparin, blood thinner and a CT scan to check for clots.” The nurse did not believe her request and thought Williams’ medication (from surgery) was affecting her judgement. Only after Williams repeatedly insisted on this specific medical attention did her doctor finally obey her wishes. He discovered small blood clots in her lungs, which demanded medication instruction right away. But the damage had already been done. Williams’ coughing spells, triggered by the blood clots in her lungs, had reopened her wound, which needed immediate surgery to repair. While in surgery, her medical team found a hematoma in her abdomen; resulting in a third surgery.
Serena Williams’ story resonated with many African American women, because it captured the harrowing ordeal that African American mothers face in navigating the healthcare system. As she states, black women need quality healthcare more than ever.
African American women deserve to be protected fully and unconditionally. Millions of lives can be saved if proper resources could only be provided. In the meantime, the most effective way to stand up for these women is to contact your state Senators, join marches, and educate the public. It is time the public knows that many women are not being protected in this country. Change can only come from you, so show your support and solidarity and help make change happen.