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Op-Ed: Laws Restricting Abortion, Contraception Access Exacerbate U.S. Mortality Rate

Op-Ed: Laws Restricting Abortion, Contraception Access Exacerbate U.S. Mortality Rate

July 28, 2015 — Antiabortion-rights "laws and policies that limit abortion's availability, especially for women and teens who need it most" are "literally killing us," Women's eNews Editor in Chief Rita Henley Jensen writes in an opinion piece for the publication.

According to Henley Jensen, "Quality maternal health care, available contraception and access to abortion are the three pillars of reducing maternal deaths." However, she notes that "[t]he U.S. maternal mortality rate has doubled since 1990, even as more and more anti-choice political leaders amped up their campaigns and re-elections with promises, too often fulfilled, to limit access to contraception and abortion," she writes.

She notes that "the United States is the only developed nation in which maternal mortality is rising, with 60,000 deaths per year," and "African American women die seven times more often than their white counterparts." While "[t]here is virtually no research to explain why this is so," Henley Jensen writes, "[h]ealth care officials estimate that tragically the deaths are avoidable between 50 and 93 percent of the time."

Increasing Number of Abortion Restrictions

Meanwhile, Henley Jensen notes that "[a]nti-abortion laws continue to be introduced, passed and signed with ever increasing speed by ambitious political leaders with no heed to women's well-being," such as the 20-week abortion ban (Act 56) signed last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). According to Henley Jensen, "women's rights groups have funded and fought lawsuits and successfully put a halt" to some of the laws, such as a fetal heartbeat ban (HB 1456) in North Dakota, "[b]ut the new laws keep coming, despite federal court opinion after court opinion ruling the laws are unconstitutional."

"[W]hile these lawsuits challenging the laws are irreplaceable, they are also insufficient," she writes, adding, "It is up to all of us to transform the political landscape to the point that being anti-choice is toxic for anyone running for public office."

Henley Jensen writes, "I would like to see women's advocates put the anti-abortion and anti-contraception forces on the defensive for what they are: Organizations that are putting all women and teens at risk; not only for back-alley abortions but also for dying from pregnancy-related causes."

Abortion-Rights Opponents Should Be Put 'on the Defensive,' Op-Ed States

According to Henley Jensen, there are a number of factors contributing to the rising maternal mortality rate in the U.S., notably the large number of pregnant women who lack health insurance. She notes that a high proportion of these women reside in the 19 states that have not expanded Medicaid, including Georgia, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and where 26% of women of childbearing age lack health insurance. Another important factor, Henley writes, is a lack of hospital protocol for treating emergencies during and after labor, such as excessive bleeding, infections and stroke.

However, "the underlying cause" of the increasing maternal mortality rate, Henley Jensen writes, "is the void in political will." She notes that in the U.S., "excellent maternity care is the exception," contraceptive access "is consistently constrained," and abortion access is "regularly being limited by anti-choice legislation." She writes, "While the current class of [conservative] presidential candidates is competing to demonstrate their support for the most extreme anti-abortion initiatives, more women are dying because they were pregnant and did not receive the care they needed."

Henley Jensen concludes, "It is time to put the anti-life forces on the defensive for who they are and what they really stand for: Preventable deaths of healthy young women" (Henley Jensen, Women's eNews, 7/27).