Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Healthy Abortions, Healthy Children

Here's a vivid reminder that children's welfare is at risk wherever women's reproductive rights are compromised.
In Sweden there are 3 deaths per 1,000 children under five.
In industrialised nations there are 6 deaths per 1000 under five.
In Sierra Leone there are 270 deaths per 1000 under five.

In Sweden, 1 in 17,400 mothers die in childbirth.
In the UK, 1 in 8,200 mothers die in childbirth.
In Sierra Leone, 1 in 8 mothers die in childbirth.

(Figures via A. at A Changing Life. Original source: the U.N. report, "State of the World's Children.")
What does a dying mother in Sierra Leone have to do with reproductive rights in the United States? Way too much, as it turns out. Our international family planning policy is crippled by the Mexico City Policy, aka the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. aid from going to any non-governmental organization that deals with abortion, however tangentially. This even includes organizations that merely provide referrals to abortion services or lobby for abortion rights.

The gag rule harms poor women in the developing world in several ways. First and most obviously, it restricts their access to safe abortion. This is reflected in the maternal mortality statistics since they also include abortion deaths. Secondly, it exposes women to unwanted pregnancies because it impedes the flow of contraceptive supplies and education. Organizations that refuse to abide by the gag rule lose crucial funding for family planning activities. Thirdly, when as these organizations lose their U.S. aid, the development of essential medical infrastructure is also compromised.

These women's children are also harmed. Those who are left motherless due to unsafe abortions or deliveries will be at greater risk of death and disease themselves. Some are exposed to greater hunger and poverty because their mothers have no access to contraception and thus bear more children than they can support. Many of them lack basic health services because the medical infrastructure continues to be weak.

And that's why this post's title may be provocative; it may be paradoxical; but it's true. Where women have access to safe abortions and reproductive care, their children will be healthier.

Further proving the point that mothers and children suffer when a society ranks "life" over individual lives, we in the U.S. have been unable to put our own house in order. The lifetime risk of death in childbirth is 1 in 4800 here, more than three times that of Sweden. Much of this discrepancy is due to the risks that poor women of color face in childbearing. Like child poverty, it's a national disgrace. Equally disgraceful, we rarely hear about it in the media.

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