The Joy of Birth or the Specter of Death?

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Every minute a woman dies while pregnant or giving birth.  Women living in developing countries around the globe are especially at risk for dying from pregnancy-related complications.

Italy has the lowest maternal mortality rate (MMR) with only 3.9 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In contrast, Afghanistan’s MMR is 1,575.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, making it the country with the highest MMR in the world.  At the bottom of the list, close to Afghanistan, we find the Central African Republic, Malawi, Chad, Sierra Leone, Lesotho, and Cote d’Ivore. In fact, twenty-seven of the thirty countries with the highest MMR are African countries.

In Africa alone, a woman is 175 times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in developed regions of the world.

Of the third-of-a-million women who die each year from pregnancy-related conditions, approximately three quarters could be saved if they had adequate access to reproductive health services.

Despite the fact that most of these deaths could be prevented, funding for reproductive health around the world continues to be threatened by politics and the ignorance of policymakers.

One clear example of this inexplicable war against reproductive health is recent United States legislation. During this past month, the U.S. House of Representative introduced a bill to cut funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Supporters of this bill have the erroneous view that the UNFPA’s main focus consists of providing abortions to women worldwide. Others suggest that the UNFPA is complicit in China’s controversial one-child policy, which enforces abortion and sterilization.

If you ask the UNFPA about their programs and interests, you will learn that they are a women and children’s health program that works to reduce maternal mortality, prevent HIV/AIDS and provide contraception to the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Remember the shocking maternal mortality rate in Africa? If the U.S. bill were to pass, in 2012 the UNFPA would be unable to prevent 7,000 maternal and newborn deaths, unable to provide surgeries to 10,000 women suffering obstetric fistulas, and unable to offer valuable contraception to about one million couples who otherwise would not be able to afford it.
My guess is that those countries with disproportionately high MMR will be the most affected if the cuts go into place.  That seems to be the curse of the poor worldwide. Once they thought it could not get any worse, some out-of-touch lawmaker on the other side of the world takes away the few resources available to them.

Where are abortions in this? After all, the proponents of the legislation claim that funding cuts will end abortions. Unfortunately, the reality is that the funding cuts will threaten the basic services that help save the lives of countless women and children worldwide.

Regardless of one’s views on abortion, most people agree on the importance of reproductive health. Millennium Development Goal 5 aims to reduce maternal mortality and to establish universal access to high quality reproductive health for all people in the world. In many people’s opinion, reproductive health should be a human right.

Yes, that is correct. Reproductive health should be a human right, not only a women’s right. If we want to defeat infections like HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, we must include men in our efforts as well. Planning a pregnancy not only depends on women, but also on men, whether it is by educating them on condom use, or on the benefits of contraceptives.

Like it or not, men are key players in decreasing the burden of risk and disease among women. Thus, they should also have equal access to reproductive health.

At this point, you might be somewhat unclear as to what exactly is reproductive health. The term surely gets thrown around a lot, especially around issues like abortion. However, reproductive health encompasses a lot more. In reality, reproductive health refers to a state of good sexual health. Having good reproductive health means having the ability to have a satisfying and safe sex life. It implies the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. The right to reproductive health is the right to access safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning. Most importantly, the right to reproductive health is the right to access health-care services to help women go safely through pregnancy and childbirth.

By making reproductive health accessible to those women who need it the most, we could potentially save over 200,000 women worldwide every year, the majority of which are in desperate need for these services.

The reality of our world is that for some women, childbearing and childbirth are sources of joy, love and much more. For other women, however, childbearing and childbirth are life-threatening episodes of life. Much of this could be prevented. While in developed countries most women can access the resources they need to conduct a good pregnancy, in many countries around the world women have to walk for days to get to the closest clinic. Oftentimes, women go on this walk even while in labor. Sometimes, when they reach the nearest hospital, the facility is empty as a result of cuts to funding and the resulting reduction in medical personnel and hours of operation. These are common realities for millions of women in the developing world.

We were all born to a mother. She was the one who gave us our life. Life is such a treasure that we have defined it as a human right. Then, if women are dying to give life, why is access to reproductive health not a human right? Why are we not making sure the funds go to the agencies in charge of preventing the death of so many women worldwide? Is the fear of abortion practices enough of an excuse to condone the death of so many women? I do not think so.

How can someone be pro-life and still overlook the fact that certain pro-life measures result in the death of many people? If you support life, then you should support access to reproductive health. After all, it is a human right.

-World Health Organization
-Planned Parenthood Action Center

-United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

By Paola Brigneti

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