Racism is rampant in reproductive health care in the US

Racism permeates every aspect of life in the United States, so much so that women of color encounter racism when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health, a situation exacerbated by gender and class discrimination.

In a contribution to the United Nations ahead of its review of US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Human Rights Watch and our partners outlined three key areas where racial discrimination in the US thrives and persists health inequality , with particularly devastating consequences for black women.

First, abortion. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned constitutional protections against access to abortion, more than half of the nation’s states have made or are about to make nearly all abortions illegal. Yet abortion is a form of health care that women of color need more often, especially black women, than white women in the US. Abortion restrictions reinforce economic, social and geographic barriers to health care, including contraception, that disproportionately impact black women’s ability to access the care we need.

Second, the US allows the tying of pregnant prisoners during labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. Such shackles are a clear violation of human rights, as recognized by UN bodies. Black women are almost twice as likely to be incarcerated as white women and we are disproportionately affected by this barbaric practice and the associated negative health consequences.

Third, black women are almost twice as likely to die from cervical cancer as white women in the US. This despite the fact that cervical cancer is highly preventable and treatable.

In addition to racism and discrimination, which are rampant in health care, women of color are more likely to be uninsured and unable to access affordable and comprehensive health care in the US. Twelve U.S. states, including many in the southern U.S., where the majority of black people live, have failed to expand Medicaid, a government health care program designed to extend affordable health care to more low-income people.

The US federal government is not doing enough to address and eradicate structural racism and discrimination in the US, and the impact on black women’s health is clear. To correct this, the government must take concrete measures to protect and promote the rights to equality under the law, non-discrimination, information and health, including reproductive health care, for all people.

Racism is rampant in reproductive health care in the US

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