For Black Women, Police Violence And Reproductive Injustice Often Intersect

Simply existing as a black woman in America can be a daunting, and often fatal, experience.
Flowers, photos and other items are placed at a memorial for Charleena Lyles at the Seattle apartment building where she was killed earlier this month.
Flowers, photos and other items are placed at a memorial for Charleena Lyles at the Seattle apartment building where she was killed earlier this month.
David Ryder via Getty Images

WASHINGTON ― Maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have more than doubled between 1990 and 2013, from 12 to 28 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. That puts the U.S. in same category as Afghanistan, El Salvador, Belize and South Sudan.

And a new report, titled “Our Bodies, Our Lives, Our Voices: The State of Black Women & Reproductive Justice,” points out that for black American women, the numbers are even more bleak.

Between 2011 and 2013, black women in the U.S. died at a rate of 40.4 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 12.1 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women. Black women are up to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications, and more than twice as likely to experience a life-threatening complication during childbirth or pregnancy.

The report, released Tuesday from a partnership called In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, notes that pregnant black women are also more likely to experience a pregnancy-related injury or death, and less likely to receive timely and consistent prenatal care. Black women experience above-average rates of poverty, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cesarean deliveries and stress from racial inequality. And, as the report notes, “inadequate health care infrastructure, high costs, and lack of insurance are all factors” exacerbating these and other health crises.

On Tuesday, a briefing on the report highlighted yet another factor that also endangers pregnant black women: police violence.

Black women and girls make up 13 percent of the U.S. population yet account for 33 percent of all women killed by police, according to the African American Policy Forum.

At least two of the five black women killed by police this year were pregnant, according to a tracker of police shootings from The Washington Post. Charleena Lyles, 30, was shot and killed by two Seattle police officers on June 18. Alteria Woods, 21, was shot and killed on March 19 during a SWAT team raid at her boyfriend’s apartment in Gifford, Florida.

Authorities claim Woods’ boyfriend used her as a human shield during the shootout. Seattle police say Lyles was killed after she lunged at officers with a knife.

Police also have a history of roughing up pregnant black women. In 1992, DeLois Young, at the time eight months pregnant, was shot by a California sheriff’s deputy during an illegal raid on her home. She survived, but the fetus was killed. Starr Brown, a pregnant woman from East Baltimore, was choked and slammed facedown on the sidewalk by an officer in 2009. Charlena Michelle Cooks was eight months pregnant when two officers pinned her stomach-first against a chain-link fence in Barstow, California, in 2015.

“Maternal mortality for black women is at an epidemic level,” said Marcela Howell, the founder and executive director of In Our Own Voice and a HuffPost contributor. “It cuts across all economic levels and all educational levels. We’re not just talking about poor black women. We’re talking about black women.”

“Black women should not be afraid... if they call the police for help,” she said.

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