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Maternal mortality went down in 2022 after spiking in 2021, new CDC report shows

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A report out today from the CDC finds that the maternal mortality rate in 2022 improved from the year before, though the U.S. still has far more maternal deaths than other wealthy countries. NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin has the details.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Last year data from the centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed an alarming spike in maternal deaths in 2021. More than 1,200 women died either during pregnancy or up to six weeks after childbirth. The reason for that spike was the pandemic, says Dr. Veronica Gillespie Bell, an OB-GYN in New Orleans. 2021 is the year in which the most Americans by far got COVID-19 and died from it.

VERONICA GILLISPIE-BELL: We know that because of COVID-19, there were disruptions to care that obviously impacted our ability to to care for pregnant individuals. Plus, there were pregnant individuals that were dying from COVID.

GILLISPIE-BELL: Now it's clear that 2021 was an outlier. The author of the latest maternal mortality report from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics is Donna Hoyert.

DONNA HOYERT: The maternal mortality rate for 2022 decreased from that of 2021 by about 30%, and we're returning to pre-pandemic levels.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Overall, 817 women died in 2022. The widely reported racial disparities persist. Black women were more than twice as likely to die as white women, and the U.S. mortality rate is still much higher than it is in other wealthy countries. CDC's newest data comes several weeks after an academic study cast doubt on the agency's methodology, suggesting that a pregnancy checkbox on death certificates was causing the numbers to look much higher than they are in reality. The CDC strongly rejected the academic study's findings, and Hoyert defends their methods.

HOYERT: There was plenty of literature before we made the change that we were underestimating without a checkbox.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The stakes for getting these numbers right are high in a post-Roe America. Reproductive health advocates warned that abortion bans threaten women's lives, and if CDC's data is not viewed as reliable by the public, that could make it hard to evaluate the impact of these restrictions. In most states, committees investigate each maternal death. They carefully validate the data and make recommendations for changes in clinical practice or policy based on their findings. Research shows the vast majority of these deaths are preventable. Selena Simmons-Duffin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.