Maternal Mortality & Contraception

This week, I filled in for my friend Jess over at RH Reality Check. I took over her role of creating the weekly Global Roundup – a post that highlights interesting reproductive health stories from around the world. I sifted through a bunch of articles while looking for ones to feature, and kept coming back to the United Nations’ recent Maternal Mortality report.

The overall stats are promising, with the total number of maternal deaths having decreased from 543 000 in 1990 to 287 000 in 2010. This 47% reduction in mortality rates is due to many factors, but most notably, countries that are doing better are focusing on training and deploying midwives, ensuring adequate essential supplies, making family planning accessible and providing timely obstetric care to women with complications.

Still, despite the overall decrease in deaths, there are still countries that are struggling. (It should be noted that the U.S. ranks at #50 in maternal mortality rates, despite spending more on health care than any other country. Clearly there’s a disconnect here.)

The report noted that a woman dies of pregnancy-related complications every two minutes, and many of these deaths could be prevented with proven interventions. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are areas that still face challenges, and in fact, the countries of India and Nigeria make up one-third of total maternal deaths worldwide.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has created a three-pronged strategy in hopes of lowering these rates even further. They’re quite simple, really:

  • All women have access to contraception to avoid unintended pregnancies
  • All pregnant women have access to skilled care at the time of birth
  • All those with complications have timely access to quality emergency obstetric care

The first part of their plan is to ensure that all women have access to contraception. This goes for every woman in every country. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp – if we want to ensure that women are having healthy pregnancies and births, we need to make sure that they actually want to become pregnant in the first place. The UN understands this idea quite nicely – so why are we having a struggle with this in our own country?

While the UN and countries all over are struggling to ensure women worldwide have access to contraception, politicians right here in the U.S. are doing their damnedest to restrict the very same access.


Pennsylvania Seeks to “Reprioritize” Funding Away From Planned Parenthood

Notre Dame Sues Administration Over Birth Control

On Final Day of Legislature Missouri Passes Blunt-Style Contraception Amendment

12 More Lawsuits Attack Contraceptive Coverage; Still No Good Case

With our maternal mortality rates worse than 49 other countries, perhaps we should heed the UN’s 3-pronged approach and ease up on these attacks on contraception. While there are certainly a host of other issues at play in the US as far as maternal mortality goes, it would definitely not hurt to provide more access to contraception to those who need it. While the focus may be global, we can stand to learn a lesson from the UN’s latest report, yet sadly, I highly doubt those who need to are listening.

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