Opinion: A perfect storm: Climate disasters are magnifying the U.S.’s maternal health crisis

During every humanitarian disaster — whether it’s a war, a pandemic, or an extreme weather event — pregnant mothers and their babies are hit particularly hard. More frequent and more intense climate disasters, shown by the recently released report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be the result of decades of inaction on climate change, make conditions particularly dire for pregnant mothers and their babies around the globe. These risks are increasingly apparent in the U.S., particularly for mothers of color.

While climate change has long been recognized as a racial justice issue, the impact of climate disasters on birth equity has received less attention. On average, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native mothers in the U.S. are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white mothers. This disparity is compounded by segregation. In segregated cities like New York, for instance, Black mothers are eight to 12 times more likely to die than white mothers from complications related to pregnancy and birth.

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