Worldwide, fewer and fewer women are dying during pregnancy or from complications related to childbirth. In fact, women living almost anywhere in the developed world are safer today, than they were in the year 2000. Here in the United States, however, women are twice as likely to die during or after pregnancy, than they were 15 years ago. Thanks to the regressive party, otherwise known as the GOP, the United States is moving backwards, not forwards, when it comes to women’s health.
According to the latest State of the World’s Mothers report, released in May, 2015, the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal death in any western nation. Women in the U.S. are ten times more likely to die from pregnancy as women living in Poland or Norway. Compared to women living in Belarus, the country with the lowest rate of maternal deaths, women in the U.S. are twenty times more likely to die before, during, or immediately after childbirth.
Globally, the rate of maternal deaths has been steadily declining over the past two decades. Around the world, the rate of maternal deaths has been reduced by 45 percent since the mid-1990’s. Meanwhile, a woman’s risk of death from pregnancy in the U.S. today is double what it was a decade and a half ago.
It gets worse, though. The rate of maternal deaths in the United States is calculated according to the number of deaths reported annually. According to a report published by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, at least 38 percent of pregnancy-related deaths are not reported as such in the United States. Research also estimates that at least half of all maternal deaths are not listed as “maternal deaths” on the death certificate in cases where the fetus was not delivered, when a woman died more than a week after delivery, or in cases where a woman died from a condition that existed before pregnancy, which was worsened because of pregnancy.
Disturbingly, there is no federal law that requires U.S. hospitals to keep records regarding maternal deaths. So while we know that the maternal death is climbing in the U.S., we don’t really know how many women are dying as a result of a pregnancy.
What we do know is that in spite of all the advances in medicine and technology, the risk of pregnancy-related death in the US is going up every year, not down.
The State of the World’s Mothers report, which is published yearly by the nonprofit Save The Children Foundation, ranks 179 nations on ‘the Mother’s Index,’ illustrating where in the world “women and children fare best.” The U.S. has been steadily falling in rank, since the year 2000, when the study first began.
In 2000 the U.S. ranked among the top ten countries in the world for women’s health and well-being. It was listed as the 4th best country on earth for mothers’ health on the Mother’s Index. Only Norway, Canada and Australia ranked higher.
In the 15 years since the first State of the World’s Mothers report was published, the U.S. has dropped to number 33 on the Mother’s Index. America now ranks 61 in maternal health, falling behind every other Western nation when it comes to protecting the health of pregnant women. In the year 2000, a US woman’s risk of death from pregnancy-related causes was 1 in 3500. Today that risk has risen to 1 in 1800, according to this year’s annual report.
The republican War on Women is not just a catchphrase used by the left. Every war has casualties, and this one is no different. Government restrictions on reproductive rights have a direct impact on women’s health and well-being. While national statistics can be informational, it’s also important to understand that not all states are equal, when it comes to maternal deaths.
A 2014 report by the Center for Reproductive Rights shows that states that have the highest number of abortion restrictions, score lowest on women’s overall health. On the contrary, states with the least amount of restrictions on abortion are doing a much better job of protecting women’s health.
This chart shows how abortion restrictions impact women’s health in the states:
The state of Vermont, which does not place any restrictions on abortion, has the second lowest maternal mortality rate in the country, with just 2.6 deaths per 100,000 live births. At the other end of the spectrum, the rate of maternal deaths in Oklahoma, a state with 14 laws designed to restrict a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health, ranks 48th in the country. Oklahoma has a maternal death rate that is almost ten times higher than Vermont, at 20.1.
The state of Maine also places very few restrictions on a woman’s right to choose. As of January of 2015, the Guttenmacher Institute reports that the only restrictions in the state are in regards to the use of public funding to pay for abortion services. Maine has the distinction of being the state with the lowest rate of maternal deaths, at 1.2 per 100,000 live births.
In contrast, states that undermine women’s rights, including their right to decide when or if they will have a child, have maternal death rates that are as much as 20 times higher than those in Maine. Mississippi, which has some of the most restrictive laws in the country when it comes to women’s reproductive health, has a maternal death rate of 19.0. Other states with 11 or more restrictions on abortion access also have alarmingly high maternal death rates. Those states include Michigan, which has a maternal death rate of 21.0 per 100,000 live births, the highest among the 50 states. Georgia’s maternal death rate is 20.9. In Louisiana, the maternal death rate is 17.9. Arkansas and Idaho have maternal death rates of 16.0 and 15.0, respectively, according to the most recent report on maternal deaths by state.
According to the research from the Center for Reproductive Rights, states that have six or fewer laws regarding abortion access rank highest in the country for women’s health, overall. States that have 11 or more laws restricting a woman’s right to control her own body, rank at the bottom of the country, when it comes to women’s health and well-being.
This data tells us that, while the maternal death rate is climbing in the United States, not all states are equally responsible for the increase. As a nation it’s time for us to come together to ensure that the health and well being of all women is protected, no matter where in the United States they choose to live.
The United States also needs to catch up to the rest of the civilized world when it comes to collecting complete and accurate information on maternal deaths. More than a decade ago, the United States set a goal of reducing the maternal death rate to 3.3 per 100,000, by 2010. If this had actually been a priority for state and federal representatives, then accurate data collection would also have been a priority. But that never happened.
The reality is that saving women’s lives is not a priority for too many U.S. representatives. Religious fanatics elected to office view women as baby-makers, nothing more, nothing less. The life a woman matters to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with a man’s right to procreate by using her body. That becomes all too clear when Republican politicians go to great lengths to protect rapists and child molesters, or when they advocate for laws that would allow men to sue women for not giving birth to their fertilized sperm. In their warped minds, a woman’s body is not her own. A woman’s body only exists to be used by men, in an act of procreation. If the woman does not want to be impregnated, if she doesn’t want to birth a kid, as far as republicans are concerned, she can go ahead and die.
While the rest of the civilized world is working to protect women from the risks associated with pregnancy and childbirth, regressive US republicans are working to ensure that women birth those babies, or die trying. As a nation we cannot accept these horrifying statistics. We can not accept Republican policies that fail to protect the lives of the women we love because of their religious devotion to the idea that someone that was never born is just as important as someone who is obviously born.
*Featured image credit: freefoto.com, creative commons license 3.0