Saving Women’s Lives: U.S. Maternal Health Resolution

Amie Newman

Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) reached across the aisle to pass Senate Resolution 616 that focuses attention on the crisis of maternal health in this country. The U.S. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any industrialized nation and ranks 41st worldwide.

While some female politicians like to talk about being an average, middle-class "hockey mom" as a qualification for VP of the United States and as proof positive that she would advocate for women’s issues, others are more, well, active in their support for women.

Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) reached across the aisle to pass Senate Resolution 616 that focuses attention on the crisis of maternal health in this country. The U.S. has one of the highest maternal mortality rates of any industrialized nation and ranks 41st worldwide.

In a press release, Lincoln says, ""More than 536,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth every year…While the majority of deaths occur in developing countries, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among industrialized nations.  This is not a problem we can or should ignore.  A mother’s health affects the health of her child, her family’s well-being, and the productivity of a community.  It’s time we made maternal health a priority."

It’s not a problem we can or should ignore but it’s a problem we have ignored – especially in this election season.  We certainly haven’t heard how our candidates will address this issue. However, this resolution is good news and it should be lauded as a critical step towards focusing on some of the root cause of maternal death in this country.

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Theresa Shaver, Executive Director of the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood, says:

"No nation, least of all the United States, should look the other way when women die while giving birth for lack of the most basic lifesaving care…Indeed, where there is the political will to invest in comprehensive obstetric and emergency care, almost all women live through the complications that would otherwise kill them."

Maternal health isn’t controversial and yet simply addressing the root causes seem to stir debate. According to the White Ribbon Alliance, inequities in women’s access to quality care before, during and after childbirth are the root cause of maternal deaths.  A  global shortage of skilled birth attendants adds to the problem. 

Most recently the G8, a gathering of governments around the world, and the European Union both made commitments to improving maternal mortality rates. However, the United States has yet to take a leadership role – in a country as wealthy as ours the fact that we still have women dying in childbirth and pregnancy from preventable and treatable conditions could be called an embarrassment of riches. 

In fact, the Bush administration recently ordered six African nations to halt the supply of contraceptives to international health organization, Marie Stopes International, on the grounds that Marie Stopes works with the Chinese government -a government that supports coercive abortion.

Emily Douglas, on this site, writes that the USAID mandate will affect contraceptive services in Ghana, Malawi,
Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda
and Zimbabwe and that "MSI is a major distributor of contraceptive
supplies and family planning services in those countries." Douglas goes on to quote Marie Stopes International’s chief executive Dana Hovig:

"At a time when world governments have
pledged to increase their commitment to improving the health of women, only the
Bush Administration could find logic in the idea that they can somehow reduce
abortion and promote choice for women in China by causing more abortion and
gutting choice for women in Africa. This senseless
decision is likely to have only one clear consequence: the death of African
women and girls. And the Bush Administration should answer for that."

I might aid that only the Bush Administration could turn their backs on the mothers of this country, and around the world, by refusing to provide critical family planning and health care necessary to prevent maternal death. 

What is the answer? Should we start an anti-maternal mortality movement? Do people in this country need controversy in order to rally around this issue? We’ve got an anti-choice movement in this country that fight tooth and nail on behalf of what they say are "the rights of the unborn." But when it comes to maternal health, they are curiously silent. The Bush administration is making a last ditch attack on contraception – a health care service critical to lowering maternal mortality globally  – instead of investing in efforts that improve maternal health. 

The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood says that aid to the least developed countries on this issue has stalled and we are not on target to reach the Millennium Development Goal set to reduce maternal mortality by 75% in 2015. At this rate, Africa, for example, won’t reach the goal until well past 2076!

Still, the Alliance is hopeful. Shaver is grateful the U.S. Senate has recognized, through Resolution 616,  that access to quality and affordable health care is essential to improving maternal health. To help, the Alliance is leading a global campaign in 104 countries to catalyze public support on this issue.

For more information, visit 

Topics and Tags:

G8, maternal health, UNFPA, USAID

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