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

Sound Science and Unsound Ideology: Sixty Years of Obstetric Ultrasound

Ultrasound image used in an anti-abortion billboard in Ireland, 2012. Photo: The Vagenda

For decades now, ultrasound technology has been a fixture in the journey from pregnancy to parenthood. It has also become a prized weapon among abortion opponents in the battle over reproductive rights.

Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to render images of a developing fetus, had its beginning 60 years ago this week, with the publication of a seminal paper in the British medical journal The Lancet. The development of the technology has a colorful history, one involving flying mammals, German submarines, a desert-dwelling inventor, and countless medical professionals who saw a range of patient care possibilities.


Ultrasound is a powerful tool, which can benefit patients or be used as a cudgel by abortion opponents.


But that colorful history belies the drab and fuzzy appearance of most ultrasounds. That limitation, though, has never stopped it from taking on enormous significance. When the technology was first developed, it gave obstetricians an unprecedented ability to survey fetal development, making it one of the most important advances in their field during the latter half of the 20th century.

By the same token, ultrasound has not only been a valuable medical tool but also a powerful storytelling tool. Today, it is often put to use four or more times before a patient’s due date. While the FDA and other authorities advise against ultrasounds that aren’t medically necessary — recommending just two for a low-risk pregnancy — many patients opt for additional, elective ultrasounds for the sake of having keepsake images. Posting those images online has become a popular way to share their news with family and friends. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Earlier this week, the tools in Congress voted to ban abortion at 20 weeks. They totally, ignorantly ignored the fact that many fetal anomalies cannot be discovered until past that period in a woman’s gestation. Alexis Miller, who was overjoyed to be pregnant, is one of those women and her story of needing a late abortion is powerful. (Time)
  • More Congressional tomfoolery to report on this subject. These morons justified their vote to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks by using the awful mass shooting that took place a few days ago in Las Vegas to illustrate how much they value life and “have” to protect it. Really? How about passing some restrictions on guns, then? How many 5-, 6-, and 7-year-old children died in Sandy Hook? Why do these lawmakers value an unborn fetus the size of a kidney bean more than they do living, breathing human beings??? (Think Progress)
  • Studies indicate that black women have fewer sexual partners and are more likely to use condoms than white women from similar economic backgrounds. And they are not members of the highest-risk demographic: gay and bisexual men. So why are black women in Philadelphia at a higher risk of contracting HIV than their white counterparts? (Philly.com)
  • One thing I never hear anti-abortion folk (who cling to the term “pro-life”) cry over? The fact that the U.S. infant mortality rate among black babies is more than twice as high as it is for white babies. How can you be “pro-life” and never put your advocacy efforts toward helping born children survive? It’s baffling, isn’t it? Luckily, some people DO care, and many cities are turning to doulas to help these babies survive. (WaPo)
  • Anyway, while the folks in the House were passing an abortion ban because they care so much about babies, children, and “life” … they let the Children’s Health Insurance Plan expire, potentially leaving millions of poor children without any health insurance. I guess it’s OK if already-born children suffer and die since technically they’re out of the womb? (HuffPo)
  • Republican hypocrite Tim Murphy, who is SO pro-life he’s never fostered or adopted any children in need, is resigning from Congress after the news that he urged his mistress to have an abortion became public. Murphy, a House Pro-Life Caucus member, voted this week to restrict abortion AGAIN and has a lengthy record of similar votes. The hypocrisy, while not at all stunning, is infuriating. This wretched human being has done everything in his legislative power to take away women’s choices and dominion over their bodies under the guise of valuing life. Yet when a life that HE helped create threatened to disrupt his double life, he was all too willing to terminate it. Good riddance to this trash legislator. Pennsylvania deserves better. (Politico)
  • Could male birth control finally be on the horizon, like, for real?! Maybe! The creators of a male birth control gel (which will be applied on the shoulders, of all places!) designed to inhibit sperm production — while maintaining healthy testosterone levels in the bloodstream — will soon start recruiting 420 couples from around the world to enroll in a new clinical trial. (Scientific American)
  • Rewire has a heartbreaking write-up on the first victim who lost her life due to the Hyde Amendment. Rest in grace, Rosie Jimenez. (Rewire)
  • STDs are at an ALL-TIME HIGH in this country right now! (Time)
  • The Ontario government has introduced groundbreaking legislation that will create protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics, the homes of doctors and staff, and even pharmacies and offices that provide pills used to terminate pregnancy. Yasss Canada! Kudos to you! (Toronto Star)

STD Awareness: “Sounding the Alarm” Over Another Antibiotic-Resistant STD

In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine ominously stated, “It’s time to sound the alarm.” What followed was a description of the evolution of gonorrhea to all antibiotics we have used to treat it, including the last ones we had left. They closed the article with a warning: “The threat of untreatable gonorrhea is emerging rapidly.”

This summer, just five years after that alarm bell was sounded, the New England Journal of Medicine’s prediction came true. Reports of untreatable gonorrhea surfaced, shared in a World Health Organization press release: “Data from 77 countries show that antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhoea — a common sexually-transmitted infection — much harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat.”


An STD most people haven’t even heard of is rapidly evolving antibiotic resistance.


So maybe we should listen when a medical journal talks about the need to “sound the alarm.”

Sexually Transmitted Diseases, the medical journal of the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association, did just that in an editorial called “Mycoplasma genitalium on the Loose: Time to Sound the Alarm,” which accompanied two studies detailing antibiotic resistance in a little-known STD called mycoplasma genitalium, or MG for short.

“Let me get this straight,” you might be saying. “First you’re telling me there’s an STD called MG, which most people haven’t even heard of, and now you’re telling me I already need to worry about antibiotic resistance?” Continue reading

Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project: The Anniversaries of Two Anti-Violence Movements

Take Back the Night rally in the 1980s. Photo: University of Wisconsin

Take Back the Night rally in the 1980s. Photo: University of Wisconsin

The statistics on violence against women can be jarring. One out of every four women in the United States reports being assaulted by a current or former partner. And every day, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. At 2 million injuries per year, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women. It means that a woman is assaulted every nine seconds in the United States.

As shocking as these statistics are, evidence from crime reports and community surveys indicates that women are safer today than they were 30 to 40 years ago. Domestic violence and violent crime in general have fallen significantly since the 1970s and 1980s. It was that past era that set the stage for an anti-violence movement that turns 40 this month.


The silence of their victims and the indifference of their communities give amnesty to the perpetrators of gender-based violence.


In October of 1975, the fatal stabbing of a Philadelphia woman shook the community and brought people into the streets to take a stand against relationship and gender-based violence. A young microbiologist named Susan Alexander Speeth was walking home at night when she was attacked and killed only a block from her home.

Following the killing, campus area residents organized a candlelit march through the neighborhood. It was a response not only to the tragedy but also to warnings that women should stay inside to keep similar tragedies from happening again. The people who marched that night wanted to send a clear message: They refused to let the solution to violence fall on its victims, or to let safety mean that their work, family, and community commitments would be secondary. Their protest spawned a movement. Continue reading

Where the Revolution Continues: Inside the Second Annual Body Love Conference

A speaker at the 2014 Body Love Conference. Photo: Body Love Conference

The Body Love Conference debuted last year, riding on Tucsonan Jes Baker’s breakthrough success in body-positive blogging. Baker’s dating woes — and how they affected the way she saw herself in the mirror — sent her on a personal journey of body acceptance. Before long, the personal became political as she launched a blog called The Militant Baker, a place where could share with others what she had learned on her own journey. The Militant Baker soon reached a readership of about 20,000 — and then nearly a million as some of her content went viral.


We are maligned for wanting control over our bodies.


But Baker, along with a team of like-minded advocates and volunteers, knew that the movement needed something else as well: a safe but more public space for seeing, feeling, and asserting body love, where empowering words could translate into empowering actions. The Body Love Conference was their brainchild, and their months of preparation to make it happen paid off on April 5, 2014, with an event that drew more than 400 people.

The momentum continued this year with the second annual Body Love Conference, held at the Pima Community College West Campus on June 6. The message was the same, but a lot of things were different this year. Baker passed the torch to the other BLC volunteers so that she could turn her attention to her first book, slated for release on October 27. Meanwhile, the BLC team decided on a smaller, regional conference, so that they, too, could focus on something further out: a national “headliner” conference in 2016. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • notorious-rbgA force to be reckoned with for sure … RBG is definitely the woman of the hour these days. (Slate Double X)
  • Rabidly conservative, forced-birth advocate, and noted homophobe Cathi Herrod continues to wreak havoc on the state of Arizona with SB 1318. (Phoenix New Times)
  • And somehow, SB 1318 has been amended to be even more sucktacular. Ever heard of “reversing” a medication abortion? No one with medical knowledge has, but Repubs just don’t care! (RH Reality Check)
  • AZ state Rep. Victoria Steele bravely came forward as a survivor of sexual assault in order to fight SB 1318. To say we salute her and are grateful for her advocacy would be a huge understatement. (Tucson Weekly)
  • You’d think a bill helping to combat the evil that is human sex trafficking would be a cut-and-dry piece of legislation that both parties could get behind, right? Well, when Republicans are in charge of the legislation, you can bet anti-abortion tomfoolery will ensue. Goal? Make life harder for sex trafficking victims who get pregnant and prefer not to have their rapists’ babies. (HuffPo)
  • And Jon Stewart (rightfully) has some choice words for the Dems who supported the bill without reading it. (The Daily Show)
  • Oh look, another Republican weasel (Nebraska state Rep. Justin Harris) who wants to all but ensure that rape victims end up giving birth against their will. And not just any rape victims … underage ones. (RH Reality Check)
  • Whoa. Canada can teach us a thing or two about age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education! (HuffPo Canada)