Tuesday, May 09, 2006

THE UNITED STATES IS TIED WITH GREAT BRITAIN for the dishonor of having the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world. Save the Children's just-released State of the World's Mothers 2006 looked at maternal health and education factors in 125 countries to see which countries are the best and worst places to be a mother or a child. The United States and Great Britain came in 10th out of 125 -- which puts them at the bottom of the top 10 countries, all of which are modern, industrialized, first-world nations, and thus our peers.

As you might expect, the demographics of America's high newborn death date are skewed heavily toward the poor and nonwhite.

Only 17 percent of all U.S. births were to African-American families, but 33 percent of all low-birthweight babies were African-American, according to the report.

The research also found that poorer mothers with less education were at a significantly higher risk of early delivery. The study added that in general lower educational attainment was associated with higher newborn mortality.

More interesting results:
  • Countries with the lowest infant mortality rates are more likely to have free or low-cost health care accessible to all.
  • The health and survival of newborns in any given country is tied to the educational level of their mothers; and to the political and economic status of women in general.
  • In places where women have access to contraception and family planning, infant mortality rates are lower.

Obviously, there are important connections here to the politics of motherhood in this country. This passage should be in flashing red lights:

As contraceptive use rises and mothers are able to space their births at healthy intervals, deaths among mothers and children decline. For example, in the United States, 71 percent of women use modern birth control, 1 in 2,500 mothers dies in childbirth and 7 out of 1,000 infants do not live to see their first birthday. Compare this to Mali, where 6 percent of women use birth control, 1 in 10 mothers dies in childbirth, and 1 in 8 infants dies before reaching age 1.

Except, of course, that the religious right wants to give pharmacists the right to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives, ranging from the traditional birth control pill to the morning-after pill. And except, of course, for the fact that many Catholic hospitals will not give emergency contraception to rape survivors -- and, according to a study done by Catholics for a Free Choice, Catholic hospitals provide health care to one out of five people in the United States. And except, of course, for the fact that the religious right is profoundly hostile to science, and the Bush administration, in its fealty to the extreme right-wing Christian fundamentalists, has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice accurate health information and scientific fact to biblical literalist ideology in everything from global warming to sex education and AIDS prevention.

According to the Save the Children study, as reported by CNN, every year, "...more than a half-million women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth difficulties, 2 million babies die within their first 24 hours, 2 million more die within their first month and 3 million are stillborn."

One would think that pro-lifers would be all over this. One would think that, since infant mortality is directly tied to maternal health, they, even more than anyone else, would want to do everything possible to ensure that girls do not become pregnant; and that all women have equal access to education, to work that gives them financial independence, to quality health care, and to effective, safe contraception that will allow them to have children if and when they want to have children -- so that when those children do come into the world, they will live past their first hours or days or weeks.

One would think.

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