San Diego tax dollars buy 'divisive' billboards that blame 'discrimination' for birth complications: critic

San Diego tax dollars buy 'divisive' billboards that blame 'discrimination' for birth complications: critic

May 17, 2021

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EXCLUSIVE: Taxpayer-funded billboards in San Diego County are pushing a race-based maternity message that critics say does more harm than good and isn’t based on data.

“The big lie is that somehow America is filled with racism — when in fact, America has made so much progress on that issue,” said Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilmember and chairman of Reform California. “It’s truly something to celebrate.”

DeMaio said he believes the ad campaign, which argues that Black women face racism and discrimination during pregnancy, might actually discourage patients from seeking proper care.

“For a public health agency to do this is quite offensive because not only does it create division in the community, racial division, but I would presume that this will discourage African-Americans from trusting their doctors, trusting the health care system, because they’re being told that health care providers in their area are all racists,” he said. “How does that encourage people to use the health care system?”

(Carl DeMaio/Reform California)

Images of the billboards show claims that “Our Black babies are nearly 60% more likely to be premature due to discrimination” and “Racism hurts your baby long before they’re born.”

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that Black babies were indeed more likely to be born prematurely between 2017 and 2019 – at a rate of 14% nationally and 12.2% in California, but lists no cause for that disparity.

White babies are born prematurely 9.2% of the time nationally and 7.7% in California. The numbers among Hispanics are 9.8% and 9.1%.

“It’s not supported by the data — it is a narrative,” DeMaio said. “It is a false narrative, and it is a false narrative that is being disseminated with our tax dollars.”

A spokeswoman for the county’s healthy agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.

(Carl DeMaio/Reform California)

The program’s website states that its data comes from state and county health departments collected between 2016 and 2018. Black babies were born prematurely 11.2% of the time, compared to 7.2% for White ones. Numbers from the same two-year breakdown were not available from the NCHS.

The website argues that the disparity is based only on race and is not impacted by mother’s income or education – while DeMaio pointed poverty and low incomes as the main driver.

The American Academy of Family Physicians, on its website, says “Poverty and low-income status are associated with a variety of adverse health outcomes, including shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, and higher death rates for the 14 leading causes of death.”

A 2020 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that disparities exist even between women of the same “high socioeconomic status.”

However the researchers said further research should be conducted into the disparity to root out its cause.

“There’s nothing we can do to stop them from doing this in their political advocacy groups because it’s First Amendment issue, but we can damn well stop them from using our tax dollars to perpetuate the big lie,” DeMaio said.

The billboards also raise questions about county officials and transparency.

Dr. Wilma Wooten, the county’s public health officer, announced the program earlier this year while speaking on the issue of racism in maternal and neonatal health care, shortly after Democrats took control of the county board.

But the billboards went up sometime in the past two weeks, and while they include logos for county government agencies, the website’s “about” section lacks specific details about who funds and operates the program. 

DeMaio is calling for the billboards to be taken down and whoever approved them to be “disciplined for an obscene lack of judgment” over the “dangerous and divisive message.”

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