Violence As a Direct Cause of and Indirect Contributor to Maternal Death

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2020 Aug;29(8):1032-1038. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2019.8072. Epub 2020 Mar 23.


Background: Death during pregnancy and postpartum in the United States is an issue of urgent and growing concern. Mortality from obstetric-related causes is on the rise, and pregnancy-associated homicide remains a leading cause of death. It is unknown how the context in which women live contributes to their risk of obstetric or violent death during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This study aimed to quantify incidence of mortality from obstetric-related causes and violent death during pregnancy and up to 1-year postpartum, and to identify associations between state-level violent crime rates and incidence of pregnancy-related mortality and pregnancy-associated homicide. Materials and Methods: We conducted a retrospective, ecologic analysis of all pregnancy-associated homicides in 17 states participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System from 2011 to 2015. Pregnancy-related mortality was identified by International Classification of Diseases-10 code for underlying cause of death in death records issued in the same states and years, data provided by the National Center for Health Statistics. We characterized decedents of both violent and nonviolent maternal death (n = 174 and 1,617, respectively). Five-year mortality ratios (deaths per 100,000 live births) were estimated for both pregnancy-related mortality and pregnancy-associated homicide in every state. Poisson regression models estimated associations between violent crime and maternal death, adjusting for area-level socioeconomic conditions. Results: Both pregnancy-related mortality and pregnancy-associated homicide ratios were higher in states with higher rates of violent crime (relative risk [RR] = 1.05, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.01-1.12; RR = 1.17, 95% CI = 1.01-1.34, respectively). Conclusion: Broad population-wide violence prevention efforts may help reduce incidence of maternal mortality from both obstetric and violent causes.

Keywords: homicide; maternal mortality; pregnancy-related mortality; violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Maternal Death / statistics & numerical data*
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*