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Committee Details Continued Racial Disparities in U.S. Reproductive Health Care

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD) recently concluded that reproductive health care in the United States is not equal for all women. 1 The Committee found that there are noticeable disparities in reproductive healthcare access and reproductive health outcomes between white women and women of color.2

During the two-week session of the UN-CERD, many reproductive health care activists shed light on the extent of these disparities and the urgent need to improve reproductive health care for women of color.  Those who had advocated for minority women’s health care were pleased with the resulting report.  Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and one such advocate, said the report, “highlighted the dramatic racial disparities in maternal mortality, unintended pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS” as evidence of obvious racial discrimination in access to equal reproductive health care services.3

Specifically, the report stated that the lack of access to health insurance for many low-income women of color is a significant source of racial disparities in reproductive health.  Low-income, minority women are less likely to receive timely, or any, pre-natal care, and have limited access to family planning services and abortion services due to affordability problems.4 As a result, women of color suffer negative reproductive health outcomes much more frequently than white women.  For example, African-American women are “four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, 23 times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS, and 14 times more likely to die from disease.” Latina women face an unintended pregnancy rate that is twice the national average.5

U.S. policies regarding sexuality education have intensified disparities.  African-American and Latina women are more likely than white women to be given abstinence-only instruction, which does not teach about contraceptive methods or about protection from HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.6

In discussing general racial disparities in U.S. healthcare, the UN-CERD noted that the United States has adopted “a wide range of measures and policies to improve access to health insurance and adequate health care services,” and encouraged that the United States “continue its efforts to address the persistent health disparities affecting person belonging to racial, ethnic and national minorities.”7 Specifically concerning reproductive health care, the UN-CERD recommended that the United States work towards “improving access to maternal health care, family planning, and pre- and post-natal care and emergency obstetric services… through the reduction of eligibility barriers for Medicaid coverage; facilitating access to adequate contraceptive and family planning methods; and providing adequate sexual education aimed at the prevention of unintended pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections.”8

“We commend the Committee for shedding light on racial inequalities in reproductive health care,” commented William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). “The U.S. must take the necessary strides towards quality reproductive health care that is equally accessible for all women, regardless of race.”


  1. “UN-CERD: Concluding Observations (U.S.) of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” 7 March, 2008, accessed 10 March 2008.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Dionne Scott. “U.N. Committee Finds U.S. is Falling Short in Tackling Racism in Reproductive Health Care.” Center for Reproductive Rights.  7 March 2008, accessed 10 March 2008,
  4. Ibid.
  5. Katrina Anderson and , Cynthia Soohoo,  “U.S. Falls Short on Racial Disparities in Health.” The Reproductive Health Blog.  10 March, 2008, accessed 10 March 2008. on-racial-disparities-in-health-un-says-us-falls-short
  6. Ibid.
  7. “Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination Conclude Seventy-Second Session.” 7 March 2008, accessed 10 March 2008.
  8. “UN-CERD: Concluding Observations.”