Dr. Ann Barnes: Addressing the Black Maternal Mortality Disparity in Texas

Dr. Ann Barnes, EHF's president and CEO

As a physician and a proud Black mother of three wonderful children, it’s important to me that we take time to reflect and address the critical and disturbing health disparity that exists across the country and especially here in Texas: Black women experience higher rates of pregnancy-related deaths compared to women from other races and ethnicities. 

According to the CDC, Black women in the U.S. are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women. One of the leading contributors to excess Black maternal mortality is high blood pressure which data shows is preventable 60% of the time. 

We need to act now to protect the lives of Black mothers. The first step is to identify and root out systemic racism wherever it exists in our society and health systems, including addressing non-medical drivers of health (NMDOH) that often contribute to racial health disparities. Two non-medical factors that play a significant role in maternal mortality are access to health care and a mother’s living environment.  

As a mom, I know pregnancy and early motherhood are transformative experiences that can come with personal growth and empowerment. I also know that giving birth is physically challenging and a very emotional experience. A person’s race or ethnicity should never be a disadvantage – especially during such a significant moment in one’s life. 

Episcopal Health Foundation’s latest research shows that a majority of Texans believe that resolving health disparities must be a priority for our lawmakers, especially improving maternal health. The poll found that 60% of Texans say reducing the number of women who die from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth should be the top health care priority for the state. Ensuring that all Texans have equitable access to affordable health care is essential. EHF is committed to addressing these disparities through our research and grantee work across Texas.  

Addressing racial disparities in maternal mortality rates requires changes that fix both the health system and the non-medical factors that impact Black women’s health and well-being. Let’s keep the focus on maternal health equity and work toward that goal together.