This year for International Women’s Day, we #BreakTheBias and ensure equitable, improved maternal health for women of color.


By Dr. Renu Chalasani and Kate Henderson, Ascension Seton; Photo by Simi Iluyomade

Every year on March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. It is true that women in Texas, nationwide and around the world continue to make meaningful progress in gender equality. But despite these advancements, historic racial biases still impact and limit women’s health. Particularly when it comes to pregnancy and maternal health care.

This year’s IWD theme, “Break the Bias,” highlights these disparities. The aim is to call for “a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination.” In particular, when it comes to women’s health, more must be done to ensure equitable, improved maternal health for women of color.

Break the Bias in Maternal Health Disparities

Poor maternal health outcomes are an unfortunate reality in Texas. The state’s 2018 maternal mortality rate was higher than the national average. According to Texas Department of State Health Services data, more than 700 women die each year in the U.S. from pregnancy-related complications. In Texas, approximately 4 out of 5 of these deaths are preventable.

Such pregnancy-related complications reveal stark racial and ethnic disparities. In the States, Black women are more than twice as likely as white women to die from maternal causes like heart attack or stroke. Overall, the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showed that the maternal mortality rate grew from 17.4 to 20.1 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2018 to 2019. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries.

Time to Break the Bias

To “break the bias,” it’s necessary to challenge longstanding discrimination in medicine.

2019 Science study identified racial bias in an algorithm used to manage a population’s health. The study determined that more health dollars are spent on white than Black patients. More recently, a 2021 Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) Network Open study found that areas subject to discriminatory housing practices were associated with higher risk of preterm birth.

To improve outcomes and “break the bias” in maternal health, we must recognize these biases and their potentially fatal outcomes. Remain diligent in changing how we care for patients.

Ascension Seton proudly counts itself as part of a national effort to improve care for women and prevent deaths due to maternal causes. Particularly for women of color. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the Perinatal Improvement Collaborative in November 2021. They selected more than 200 hospitals nationwide to participate.

The Perinatal Improvement Collaborative allows for novel ways to share information and best practices among participants. From monthly educational meetings to a program-wide dashboard. All of which allow participants to assess and set performance benchmarks. The collaborative is the first to evaluate how pregnancy affects overall population health by linking inpatient data of newborns to their mothers.

The Ascension Seton Commitment

These efforts are incredibly important for Texas women. Ascension Seton Northwest in Austin and Ascension Providence in Waco are two of the 11 Texas hospitals that will collect measures to better understand the factors that impact maternal and infant health outcomes. Ascension and other participating hospitals will have access to individualized coaching, improvement roadmaps and nationwide best-practice sharing.

As a mission-driven organization, Ascension commits to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all. A key focus is working to address health care disparities and improve outcomes. This collaborative fits naturally for our 17 hospitals nationwide that are part of this critical effort, including the two here in Central Texas.

Changing how we care for women, and understanding the impact of historic racial biases, can improve maternal health for women of color in Texas. Together, we can all “break the bias” and ensure better maternal health outcomes.

This op-ed is co-authored by Renu Chalasani, M.D., chief of Obstetrics/Gynecology Medicine, Ascension Seton Northwest, and Kate Henderson, president of Regional Hospitals and Strategic Community Partnerships, Ascension Seton. 


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