Motherhood at the mercy of ideology Mortality and morbidity: House gives short shrift to suffering of millions of women.

June 16, 1996

THERE IS no such thing as a no-risk pregnancy. Taking those risks, as millions of women do every year, is not so fearsome in a country with good medical care and access to it. But for the majority of women around the world, giving birth can entail appalling suffering with lifelong consequences. And those are the lucky women who survive.

In its latest "Progress of Nations" report, released last week, the United Nations Children's Fund focuses on the neglected issues of maternal mortality and morbidity. The mortality figures -- deaths in childbirth -- have long been estimated at half a million women a year. New evidence suggests it is closer to 600,000.

But deaths in childbirth are only a part of the problem. "Maternal morbidity" -- the medical term for lingering infections, injuries and other complications -- affects approximately 15 million women a year. It often produces lifelong pain, humiliation and disability. Conservative estimates of the total number of women suffering from untreated complications of childbirth reach 300 million, or more than one-fourth of all the women in the developing world. The report notes that it is "no exaggeration to say that the issue of maternal mortality and morbidity . . . is in scale and severity the most neglected tragedy of our times."

The U.N. report says the first and most obvious step is to make high-quality family-planning services available to all who need them -- something that can today be done without offending any country or culture. That step alone could reduce maternal deaths and debilitation by 20 percent.

And yet last week, the U.S. House of Representatives failed to recognize the tragedy that creates at least a million orphans every year and caved in to ideologues bent on destroying U.S. aid for family planning programs.

In the name of fighting abortion, these zealots built on their earlier success in decimating this year's budget for family planning aid by pushing through sizable cuts and crippling restrictions on next year's allocations. Never mind that federal law already forbids using any aid money for abortion, or that abortion is illegal in many of the countries receiving this aid.

The Senate will take up the issue this week. Surely senators can rise above the cruel hypocrisy of their House colleagues.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.