The Best and the Worst Places To Be A Mom

Amie Newman

A new report produced by Save the Children ranks the best - and the worst- places to be a mother around the world.

Despite global maternal health agreements, which promise huge returns; and a renewed focus of late on the critical importance (did I really need to write that?) of investing in improving maternal health outcomes in this country, the United States still ranks 28th of 160 countries when it comes to the best and worst places to be a new mother around the world, according to a report released by Save the Children this month.

According to the New York Times, in an article published on May 17th:

The United States did not fare well; it was 28th, below Greece, Portugal and virtually all of Western Europe. It ranked just above Poland and most of the former Soviet bloc.

I imagine, already, those commenters and committed conservative voices clinging to the idea that somehow a ranking of 28th in the world is not that bad, that it’s women’s fault, that it’s the fault of a bloated court system allowing for too many malpractice suits which scare doctors and hospitals or my favorite – it’s because of access to legal abortion. But the reality is that the U.S. health care system, a system in which more money is spent per capita then any other in the industrialized world, is failing our mothers and newborns. How does this happen? Notes the NYT article:

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The chief reason for the low American ranking, the authors said, was that despite advanced medical technology, more young mothers die, either in childbirth or in the years after, than in most rich countries. The United States also lost points because American working mothers get less maternity leave and lower benefits.

The thing is, while preventing as many deaths of mothers during or after childbirth and creating an optimal environment for new mothers to parent are crucial and worthy goals in and of themselves, the state of mothers’ lives has an immense effect on the health and lives of newborns, babies and families in the U.S. as well.

 

From a post I wrote a couple of months ago on the connection between breastfeeding rates in the United States and ensuring important rights for women like paid family leave, access to high quality health care and more,

Even though we spend more, per capita, every year on health care, we rank 37th in infant mortality in the world. According to Momsrising.org, when paid family leave is instituted we see a 25 percent drop in infant mortality rates. One of the reasons? It allows mothers the time to establish a breastfeeding relationship with their new baby.

As Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founder and executive director of Momsrising.org told me this year,

The U.S. “stands out like a sore thumb with our lack of paid family leave”, says Rowe Finkbeiner. “Of over 170 countries, only four don’t have some form of paid family leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and the U.S.”

And while it’s true that paid family leave is important, even more basic in poorer countries, notes the New York Times article, is the availability of a skilled female birth attendant – in particular a midwife, in countries like Afghanistan which was rated the worst place in the world to be a mother:

The most important factor in how mothers and babies fared in very poor countries was whether or not a female health worker helped at the birth. Since many men refuse to let their wives be seen by male doctors and many grandmothers give dangerous traditional advice, trained midwives can save lives, the authors said. After Afghanistan, the worst countries were Niger, Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Sudan; many are conservative Muslim countries where education for girls is discouraged.

How exactly do “pro-life” advocates square their stance that by blocking access to safe and legal abortion services in this country, while standing around and doing nothing to address war-torn (by the United States) Afghanistan’s dismal maternal mortality rates or addressing the circumstances in the U.S. which lead to the loss of womens’ and newborns’ lives at unforgivable rates, they are actually improving people’s lives? It’s hard to know, exactly. It’s hard to know because searching for maternal health advocacy efforts from any larger anti-choice organization yields pretty much nothing except the same virulent anti-abortion messaging for which they are known. Go ahead, try googling “pro-life maternal health” and see what you come up with. If you come up with anything at all unrelated to abortion, please let me know. 

Yet, here we stand in 2010, a report from the organization Save the Children in hand, letting us know that if you want to be treated with the respect, dignity and care you deserve, as a new mother, your best bet is to reside in Norway; and that your life is in danger should you reside in so many countries around the world from Niger to Afghanistan to Sierra Leone.

Is it an accident that the country rated safest for new mothers – Norway – is a country whose abortion laws are relatively liberal – with abortion allowed in the first and second trimesters and in the third, only under special circumstances? Of course not. Is it a coincidence that, according to the report, in the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates like Afghanistan, Angola, Chad and Niger, women’s status is abysmal, with women receiving less than four or five years of educaton in total?

Maternal health around the world is dependent upon the tenet that women must have the right to decide, for themselves or in concert with a health professional, what is best for their health and lives. Without access to health care from the most basic care to contraception, prenatal care, legal abortion, skilled birth attendants, postpartum resources, paid family leave, adequate education and more we allow for the conditions that keep women oppressed and we put women’s health and lives at risk, plain and simple.

Is it surprising that those countries in which women’s health and lives are routinely compromised are some of the poorest in the world? The temptation might be to say that these are the countries that cannot afford to invest in such complete overhauls of the system. But, of course, we know that when we raise the status of women and girls in a country, we improve the lives of children, families and in fact improve the economic status of a region as well. Are we so terrified of the true power of women and girls around the world, then, that we are willing to sarifice their lives? The number of reports are stacking up – we know where women’s health and lives stand around the world. Now, what are we going to do about it?

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.