The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

California Closed 46 Maternity Wards

Nov 27, 2023

At least 46 California hospitals have shut down or indefinitely suspended their labor and delivery services since 2012. This number includes seven hospitals that closed entirely. And these closures are accelerating. Twenty-seven maternity ward and hospital closures have occurred in the last three years. Twelve counties, mostly rural, have only one or not even a single hospital left to deliver babies.

Hospital administrators and state officials cite many reasons for these closures: dropping birth rates, high costs, and labor shortages. These excuses are just hogwash.

Birth rates might have dropped, but demand for the remaining few maternity wards has increased. Particularly in low-income working-class regions, the maternity wards are overloaded with pregnant women seeking healthcare, guidance, and help. In Imperial County, located in an agricultural region on the California-Mexico border, close to 23% of its population, mostly farm workers, live under the poverty line. One hospital, El Centro, the only one left to deliver the approximately 2,500 babies each year, is so crowded that this region’s medical centers direct labor and delivery patients to hospitals one or two hours away by car.

Los Angeles County also lost most of its maternity wards to the closures. In this vast, very rich, populous city, the maternity wards of the remaining hospitals are overcrowded.

As for high costs and labor shortages, as the University of Minnesota’s Caitlin Carroll, who specializes in female healthcare, explains, “Obstetrics units are often unprofitable for hospitals to operate. The cost of running an obstetric unit is quite high. Obstetric units have to be ready to take care of a patient 24 hours a day; they need clinical staff with specialized skills, they need specialized equipment, they need dedicated space for labor and delivery. All of that costs money.

But we are living under capitalism that treats hospitals not as healthcare organizations serving the public but as businesses generating profit. According to the rich owners of this system, for their benefit, each unit must be profitable on its own; if not, this or that unit must be shut down.

As a result of championing such a narrow mindset, the U.S. ranks worst in maternal care and death among the 11 richest countries of the world. According to the State of California’s records, pregnancy-related deaths reached a 10-year high in 2020. The state estimated nearly 60% of maternal deaths were preventable.

Yes, the U.S. is the richest and the most technologically advanced capitalist country in the world. But, at the same time, it is the cruelest against its working class.