At the turn of the 20th century, complications arising from child birth were the number one cause of death of adult women. In 1915, 600 women died in childbirth for every 100,000 births due to a lack of hygiene, poor training and procedures, and the overuse of Caesarean births, forceps deliveries and induced labor. This rate has since dropped to 13.3, due to the use of antibiotics, safer anesthesia, blood banks, proper sterilization and better training of obstetricians. Nonetheless, maternal mortality in the U.S. is higher than in most of the developed world and the rate for African-American women is four times higher than for whites.
The increased availability of birth control, especially "the pill," and the legalization of abortion as society's attitudes toward sexuality changed in the second half of the 20th century gave women more control about the decision to have a child. With the rise of feminism in the late 1960s, many women wanted greater oversight of their own health care. Indicative of this change was the publication of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," which helped empower women and influenced the health care industry's attitudes toward them and their health needs.
Breast cancer is the leading cancer among women. By the mid-1960s, new forms of detection and treatment were being developed, such as the mammogram and the lumpectomy. Indeed, deaths from breast cancer have decreased from 1997 to 2006 among white, African-American, and Hispanic women, and remained level among Asian women. Although black women had the second highest incidence of breast cancer, following white women, they were more likely to die of breast cancer than any other group. This disturbing difference arises from disparities in health coverage and access to new treatments, and the fact that aggressive tumors are more common among young African-American women.