Women are dying in America — why aren’t lawmakers helping?
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While lawmakers rush to pass 20-week bans on abortion and outlaw the safest, most common second-trimester abortion procedure, women in the United States are dying as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. And they’re doing so at the highest rate in the developed world.

Our nation’s leaders must move quickly to reverse this trend, as those in other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom, have done with success.

On Friday, just two days before Mother’s Day, NPR and ProPublica told the story of Lauren Bloomstein’s untimely death to cast light on the fact that while maternal deaths are falling in the rest of the world, they continue to rise in America. This line of the story was particularly chilling: “in Great Britain, the journal Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that ‘a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.’ ”

Trust Women Foundation, the organization I founded in 2009, for years has sounded the warning bell that women’s health and lives are relegated to second-class status. Our country places more value on the life of a fetus than that of a woman’s.

This phenomenon plays out every day, coast to coast across the United States — and the statistics are alarming.

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A study last year in the medical journal “Obstetrics and Gynecology” reported that the rate of maternal deaths in the United States rose from 18.8 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 23.8 in 2014, an increase of 27 percent. This can’t be allowed to continue.

 

These deaths occur in a country where lawmakers are taking a scalpel to women’s reproductive rights. Owning and operating reproductive healthcare clinics that provide abortion care in Kansas and Oklahoma, Trust Women sees firsthand the devastating impact of anti-choice laws on women. When the life of a fetus trumps the life of a woman, women will die. They already are — at the rate of 700 to 900 annually in this country.

Women who desire to be mothers, or to add to the families they already have, deserve far more from our healthcare system than to have their own health overlooked in doctor’s offices and hospital maternity wards and at follow-up visits. 

NPR and ProPublica’s sources revealed that nurses, doctors and other medical staff working in maternity wards monitor babies more closely than their mothers. Studies show 60 percent of maternal deaths are preventable. And yet women such as Lauren Bloomstein continue to die. 

The report noted that in the UK, “a national committee of experts scrutinizes every death of a woman from pregnancy or childbirth complications, collecting medical records and assessments from caregivers, conducting rigorous analyses of the data and publishing reports that help set policies for hospitals throughout the country.”

There’s no such system in the United States. No analysis. No tracking.

When lawmakers are more concerned about whether a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks than about whether a woman will survive pregnancy and childbirth, something is absurdly wrong with our country’s priorities. Trust Women calls on lawmakers to follow the example of their colleagues in other countries and implement policies and programs to help prevent women from dying.

We certainly hope the numbers have reversed by the time 5-year-old Hailey Bloomstein, the daughter Lauren Bloomstein gave birth to before she died, decides whether to become a mother herself.

 

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their healthcare. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart


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