Maternal Mortality: A National Embarrassment

Americans spend more money on childbirth than any other country, but we’re not getting a good return on our investment.

Less than a century ago, approximately one mother died for every 100 live births — an occurrence so common that nearly everyone belonged to a family, or knew of one, that was devastated by such a loss. Fortunately, in most nations, those tragedies have declined over the years. In fact, in the decade between 2003 and 2013, only eight countries saw their maternal mortality rates rise.

Unfortunately, the United States was one of those eight countries, joining a club that also includes Afghanistan and South Sudan. Within the 31 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an American woman is more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than a citizen of any other country besides Mexico. Among developed countries, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates — and those rates are only getting worse.

Graph: CDC

U.S. maternal mortality has attracted the attention of organizations whose oversight you wouldn’t expect. Amnesty International, which most Americans associate with the fight against human rights abuses in far-flung authoritarian regimes, considers our high maternal mortality rates to be a violation of human rights. Additionally — and pathetically — one of the biggest sources of funding for maternal health in the United States comes not from taxpayers but from the pharmaceutical company Merck. The Economist quoted a Merck spokesperson as saying, “We expected to be doing all our work in developing countries.” Continue reading

The Clash of Population and Prejudice in Madrigal v. Quilligan

Mural (detail) in Boyle Heights, East L.A. Photo: Mictlan Murals

In August 1973, Guadalupe Acosta was admitted to the county hospital in East Los Angeles. She had been suffering from labor pain for hours, but she would soon endure even more misery in the delivery room. She recounted later how the attending physician worked aggressively to induce labor, pushing down forcefully on her abdomen — even hitting her stomach when he was caught in the swing of her flailing arms. In the end, all the torment she endured culminated in the death of her baby in birth.

Acosta later said she was “very inattentive” in the aftermath of the experience. “People sometimes have to tell me things twice. It’s not that I don’t understand them, it’s that I’m not there.” For Acosta, it was not just the loss of her baby that devastated her but also the loss of her ability to have children in the future. She found out, months later, that the hospital physician had decided to sterilize her. At the time, she had been too traumatized to understand what was happening.


Just as the right to access birth control and abortion should be defended, so should the right to have children.


The University of Southern California – Los Angeles County Medical Center (USC-LAC Medical Center), as it was officially called in the 1970s, was a hospital that many in East L.A. tried to avoid. It was a place they would only visit out of necessity if other hospitals weren’t affordable. For Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, who worked there as a resident in obstetrics and gynecology, it was not hard to see how his own department reinforced that reputation.

Acosta’s traumatic experience was similar to other cases Rosenfeld witnessed — cases that showed a disturbing pattern of subjecting women, especially Spanish-speaking women, to sterilization without their informed consent. According to Rosenfeld, insistent medical staff would push sterilization on patients “before they go home” — often while they were still in pain or exhausted — so that they wouldn’t “change their mind by the time they come back to clinic.” Patients who had limited understanding of English were often uncertain of what was happening. Shocked by the unethical practices, Rosenfeld secretly copied hundreds of medical records to document what was happening at USC-LAC Medical Center. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 4: The Gathering Storm of Patriots and Plainclothes Politicians

This article is our final installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined the connections that developed in the 1980s between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement, which bred a growing extremism and led to the first assassination of an abortion provider in 1993. This installment looks at the threats that developed in the aftermath.

1996 Planned Parenthood publication detailing militia movement links to anti-abortion terrorism

On March 11, 1993, Michael Frederick Griffin approached Dr. David Gunn outside his Pensacola clinic and shot him in the back three times, reportedly shouting, “Don’t kill any more babies!” Griffin, who had been radicalized by former Klansman and anti-abortion crusader John Burt, committed the first assassination of an abortion provider in the U.S. The following year, 1994, saw a record four murders and eight attempted murders by anti-abortion extremists, and more than half of the estimated 1,500 abortion clinics in the U.S. were targets of anti-abortion crimes, such as arson or bombings, in the first seven months of 1994. Although the next two years would see decreases in some types of anti-abortion crimes, clinics have never been free of threats in any of the years since.


Since the 1990s, anti-government groups have stirred racial hatred and anti-abortion extremism on the right.


Just weeks after Dr. Gunn’s assassination, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended a 51-day armed standoff at a compound in Waco, Texas, the home of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians. The standoff began in response to reports that the cult was abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. The siege ended on April 19, 1993 — 25 years ago this month — when the cult’s leader, David Koresh, ordered his followers to ignite fires that soon engulfed the compound in flames. By the end of the standoff, 75 people had lost their lives.

The federal government’s actions in Waco had overwhelming public support — 70 percent according to a poll conducted shortly after the siege — but to many right-wing activists, who held a deep distrust of the federal government, Waco was a gross display of heavy-handed government intrusion; tyrannical, military-style policing; and violent intolerance of religious liberty. Waco thus became a rallying cry for a growing, militant movement in the political right. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • New Jersey’s new governor, Phil Murphy, undid the damage of his awful predecessor by restoring funding to Planned Parenthood. Yay!  (The Hill)

  • Democrats in the U.S. Senate are pressuring Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to reverse a strategy coordinated with a prominent hate group to undermine family-planning access for people with low incomes. (Rewire)
  • The Department of Justice is appealing a California judge’s decision to temporarily block new Trump administration rules allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control in their insurance plans. (ABC News)
  • South Carolina is trying to ban ALL abortions by granting legal rights to fertilized eggs from the moment of conception. Literally the worst idea ever. Eggs are not sentient beings. Period. (Salon)
  • Hmm … What to think of those who call themselves “pro-life” but sit quietly and idly by while gun violence steals the lives of innocent bystanders? (WaPo)
  • The abhorrent goons in the Trump administration are quietly helping states defund Planned Parenthood. (Vox)
  • This is unbelievable! Some states — including Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas — directly divert public funds allocated to feed hungry children to fake women’s health centers. (Rewire)
  • Get a load of this bull: The Trump administration created a new HHS office just to discriminate against people — and they housed it under the Office of Civil Rights. (The Hill)
  • A man crashed a stolen bakery truck into a Planned Parenthood clinic on Valentine’s Day in East Orange, New Jersey, injuring three people, including two staff members and a pregnant woman. Thankfully none of the injuries were life-threatening. (Southern Poverty Law Center)
  • Hey, North Carolina, maybe strapping female inmates to beds during childbirth isn’t the most compassionate protocol? (News & Observer)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • I’ve talked about the high rates of maternal mortality among black women many times on this blog before. Yet still I was surprised and horrified to hear that Serena Williams, a woman with significant privilege and resources, could have easily ended up a statistic after the near-death experience she had giving birth to her daughter. (Vice)
  • The crude and overt racist in the White House made some truly abhorrent comments last week, condemning countries and continents with majority black populations as “s**thole countries” while wondering aloud why more people from places like “Norway” don’t immigrate to the U.S. Well, Slate has delved into the differences between how our country treats women and families and how Norway treats women and families, and it’s enlightening to say the least. (Slate)
  • Our xenophobe-in-chief is also “poised to overhaul the HHS civil rights office as part of a broader plan to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients seeking to transition or provide other services for which they have religious or moral objections.” I have a moral objection to health workers not wanting to treat other human beings who need health care! Health care is a basic human right! (Politico)
  • College campuses in California could see expanded access to abortion for its students. A first-of-its-kind bill in the California legislature would require student health centers at California public colleges and universities to dispense medication abortion. (Rewire)
  • The California story is good news because more and more information is emerging to show that medication abortions are safe and effective, and have very low rates of complications. (The Lily)
  • Some other potential good news: Arizona could become the 10th state to bar mental-health professionals from practicing “conversion therapy,” making attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. A new bill was introduced into the Legislature last Friday, and we hope with all our hearts it passes! (AZ Central)
  • The Trump administration is determined to push Title X off the rails and once again, the health care of millions of citizens is at risk. (The Hill)
  • Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican weasel who considers himself “pro-life” (so much so that he has never fostered or adopted any children in need), recently urged us to “have more babies,” but is still playing hardball over funding health insurance for children who’ve already been born. The Democrats need to take a stand and stop.this.madness. Period. (Splinter News)
  • When the likes of Mr. Ryan and other opponents of “entitlements” slash assistance for families in need, everyone suffers as a result. Recent research out of the University of Kansas shows a direct link between a family’s ability to access government assistance, such as TANF, and foster care cases. (Rewire)
  • After losing several court battles in relation to their attempts to bar undocumented immigrant teenage girls from having abortions, the the Trump DOJ has showed its cruel and vindictive true colors. They recently tried to reveal an undocumented teen’s abortion to an uncle who threatened to “beat her” if she terminated her pregnancy. The fact that these people are monsters should be lost on no one at this point. They are fully aware this girl is under a direct threat of violence and instead of protecting her, they’re intentionally putting her at risk of physical harm from an abusive family member. They want this girl punished for having the abortion they tried to prevent. This should chill you to the bone, folks. Seriously. (Slate)

We Are Planned Parenthood. And We’re Here to Recruit You!

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

“My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!” This was an opening line the gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk often used to grab people’s attention. See, in the 1970s when Harvey was organizing for gay rights, the common misconception peddled by the media, religious organizations, and homophobes — and consumed by the general public — was that homosexuals wanted to recruit you and/or your children to join the ranks of the queers. The logic was that there was a small number of LGBTQ people, so in order to “survive” they needed to recruit — rather than, you know, being born that way. Many politicians, preachers, and pretty faces peddled the nonsense that LGBTQ folks — particularly gay teachers — were out to recruit children. While this was not the case, there were no organizations or prominent LGBTQ people to publicly fight back.


Oppressive powers thrive on fatigue and apathy. We need you to be active!


But Harvey was there to recruit you for the fight! Before he was a politician, he was a small business owner and community organizer. He knew what it was like to live in San Francisco’s Castro District, and he knew how his neighborhood and community had been ignored by those in power. By recruiting folks who wanted to see change at City Hall, who understood the gay community’s intersection of identities, and who would show up to rallies and meetings, Harvey was creating change that would ripple through communities for decades.

Forty years ago, in 1977, Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay candidates voted into elected office when his constituents selected him to fill a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Harvey felt the impact of his candidacy — and win — far and wide, and advocated, not as a politician, but as a marginalized person, for other LGBTQ people to come out. Come out to your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and lawmakers.

Sharing one’s authentic self with other folks can be a terrifying journey, not to be taken lightly. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The Congressional Budget Office just released its scoring of “Trumpcare.” As anyone with half a wit about them presumed, it’s not favorable. And it’s not a good look for the GOP. Twenty-three million Americans stand to lose their health care coverage over a 10-year period. Others, with chronic illnesses and preexisting conditions, would pay much, much more for health care OR lose it altogether. But hey, at least rich, healthy people would be OK and premiums for some will drop in price simply because the plans cover less. Tell me again how this is a win for the majority of Americans? The health and welfare of MILLIONS of people are being sacrificed so the wealthy can have even MORE of a financial advantage? (WaPo)
  • Also in the headlines re: “Trumpcare Is Astronomically Bad”: “GOP health-care bill could cost women $1,000 more per month for ‘maternity’ insurance coverage — and even more when they have kids.” And again I’ll remind you, this is all being done so rich people can be more rich. Please don’t ever forget that important fact. (CNBC)
  • Not only should the left NOT abandon so-called “identity politics,” women of color should lead the identity politics movement. OUR issues represent the future direction of progressive politics! (Salon)
  • Why does the gender pay gap persist? Motherhood. (NY Times)
  • Planned Parenthood Arizona allowed an Allure Magazine writer to spend three days following staff and patients at our Maryvale clinic in Phoenix serving Title X and Medicaid patients. Women’s stories are so powerful. (Allure)
  • Meanwhile, Iowa has cut Planned Parenthood off from federal Medicaid reimbursements and we are being forced to close four clinics there. So disappointing and disheartening for the people who rely on our care. (Mother Jones)
  • If you thought 45’s administration couldn’t get any crueler, buckle up. The budget he released earlier this week would cut off food for poor people who have too many kids. So let’s put this into perspective. They want to make it harder to prevent pregnancy by eliminating poor people’s access to Planned Parenthood by cutting us off from federal Medicaid dollars. They want to make it impossible to abort a pregnancy a woman does not want or cannot afford. And then if you have the misfortune of being economically disadvantaged but have multiple children, they want to starve them to death. Wow. Could these people BE any more pro-life? (WaPo)
  • The administration is cool with wasting $277 million on abstinence-only education though — despite tons of evidence it’s ineffective! (Bustle)
  • There’s Been a Huge Increase in Campus Sex Assaults. Why?! (The Daily Beast)
  • Danielle Ofri, a physician at Bellevue Hospital in New York, wrote a terrific piece for Slate about the history of our broken health care system and how times and opinions about health care being a basic human right in this country are a’changing. Universal health care, here we come? (Slate)
  • The GOP attacks on Planned Parenthood in Iowa are hitting low-income women especially hard. (Salon)
  • For more than 10 years, women around the world have had access to online abortion. It’s time for the U.S. to catch up. (HuffPo)
  • We’ve said it a million times and we’re going to continue to say it as the evidence mounts: Federally qualified health centers CANNOT step in seamlessly to provide the care Planned Parenthood does. Our absence would harm millions of people for the foreseeable future. To quote the great Beyonce, we are IRREPLACEABLE.  (Guttmacher)
  • Even in a state as “blue” as California, abortion can be hard to come by for many women. (Rewire)
  • 45’s administration has done everything under the sun to wage war against women’s health, our economic livelihoods, and our futures. (WaPo)
  • Let’s end this on a funny note. An anonymous “fetus” wrote a letter to Mick Mulvaney — 45’s penny-pinching budget director who thinks the rich should get to pay obscenely low taxes while “the poors” suffer without medical care and food stamps. Nothing like satire from the unborn! Ha! (Slate XX Factor)