A recent news article sparked my interest in this topic, so I did a little research on my own. My data on maternal mortality rates (MMR) is from the September 2016 issue of the scientific and medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Fact Book, the World Bank, and UNICEF. First some context, the United States as a whole is 136 out of 184 countries (in this case the higher ranking means the lowest MMR), thus 48 countries have better rates than the U.S., including Serbia, Bulgaria, Iran, Ireland, Spain and most of the other developed countries with the exception of Russia. Since 2000 to 2014, the world, in fact, has decreased its MMR, when all countries are considered, whereas the U.S. has increased its MMR from 18.8% to 23.8%.
When looking at individual states, two stand out: California, which has the lowest rate and has shown the biggest decline in the past decade, and Texas, which is the opposite. In 2014, the MMR in Texas was 35.8%! The report in Obstetrics and Gynecology found this fact troubling and difficult to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval.”
In fact, the increase in MMR in Texas is so out of whack with other states and the world at large that it raises serious questions, namely WHY?
Let me make it clear that at this time there is no researched answer and data to explain this anomaly.
There is a possible correlation, however. During this period, Texas politicians focused on decreasing funding and availability of reproductive information and rights of women for this including defunding efforts focused at Planned Parenthood.
First of all, why are reproductive rights a political issue at all? This is personal, related to an individual’s health and lifestyle. It is NOT a public issue. Because some driven by their religious beliefs think contraception, early abortion, other aspects of reproductive rights are covered by their religion, what right do they have to legislate for all of us? Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but don’t impose those beliefs on me or anyone else. Make choices in your own life as you wish and believe, but those are your personal choices, not mine. The United States in particular is supposed to be a secular country with a clear division between “church, i.e., religion” and state. What happened? How did our country get hijacked into a forced belief system? That is an issue in and of itself, but back to women’s reproductive rights.
Planned Parenthood is NOT the “evil” abortion factory that some think. They are, in fact, primarily an educational center that provides women, especially those with limited incomes, information to make choices in their own lives. Their main goal is to prevent unwanted pregnancies, not abort them. Here is their mission statement:
“Planned Parenthood believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence. We believe that respect and value for diversity in all aspects of our organization are essential to our well-being. We believe that reproductive self-determination must be voluntary and preserve the individual’s right to privacy. We further believe that such self-determination will contribute to an enhancement of the quality of life and strong family relationships.”
They have, in fact, helped to reduce unwanted teenage pregnancies, through information, not abortions. I have a personal insight into that, although from several years ago. In the 1970s I lived in Telluride, Colorado, not too far away was the small, rural ranching community of Norwood. A good friend of mine was a doctor there. He told me of the high incidence of teen-age girls who became pregnant, had to marry the fathers (other teenagers, like themselves). Neither were prepared for parenthood, the girls dropped out of school; a few years later most were divorced, single, uneducated mothers—an absolute dead-end for them. He felt discouraged and helpless in the face of the conservative community and no place for teenagers to get information about preventing pregnancy.
Here is another statement from the Planned Parenthood website (www.plannedparenthood.org):
“In 1970, Congress passes and President Nixon signs into law Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which makes contraceptives available regardless of income and provides funding for educational programs and research in contraceptive development. Later, Congress broadens Title X’s mandate to provide community-based sex education programs and preventive services to unmarried teenagers at risk of pregnancy.”
There is extensive data that educated females who can control the number of children they have and want lead to better family relationships, improved economics for not only the women, but the community and the country, lower the need for social aid programs, and a host of other benefits some direct, others indirect. Planned Parenthood is a major contributor to providing females with the information necessary for making sound, healthy choices in their lives. To prevent its functioning is shortsighted, stupid, and costly.
Granted, we do not know at this time if this is a major reason for the Texas spike in MMR or just one of several contributing factors. It is time for women, not only in Texas, but throughout the United States (and the world) to demand their right to manage their own bodies and their reproductive choices.
Photos of young girls (in the Maldives boys are in the picture too) being educated around the world. These are all schools where I volunteered during our circumnavigation (see my travel memoir, “Voice of a Voyage: Rediscovering the World During a Ten-year Circumnavigation” available in paperback and as an eBook online or ordered from bookstores for more stories about these kids and other people and places).
An after-school educational program in Sri Lanka.
Another after-school educational program in Grenada.
A class at a school in the Maldives.