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

Book Club: Her Body, Our Laws

By 2014, law professor Michelle Oberman was no stranger to El Salvador. She had already spent four years making research trips to the Central American country, but that June she would need a local guide during her travels. An activist had volunteered to accompany her on the interview she needed to conduct, a task that required a two-and-a-half-hour trip outside the city to an area that is not well mapped — in fact, to a village where there are “no signs or numbers” to help visitors find their way among the cinder-block houses and the patchwork of land where the clucks and lowing of livestock punctuate the silence.


Paid maternity leave, monthly child allowances, and affordable day care and health care decrease demand for abortion.


Once in the village, it took Oberman and her guide an additional 45 minutes to find the house they needed to visit. Inside, a curtain was all that separated the main room from a small bedroom in the back. A bucket and outdoor basin served as a shower, and an outhouse completed the bathroom facilities. The living conditions there were not uncommon — not in a country where roughly 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.

That poverty was both the cause and consequence of a conflict between left-wing rebels and government forces that lasted from 1979 to 1992. In many ways, that conflict set the stage for the abortion war in El Salvador, the subject of Oberman’s recently published book, Her Body, Our Laws: On the Frontlines of the Abortion War from El Salvador to Oklahoma (Beacon Press, 2018).

From Civil War to Abortion War

In the early 1980s, the small republic of El Salvador was in the grip of civil war, while in the U.S., debates raged over the emerging Sanctuary Movement that was aiding Salvadoran and other Central American refugees. The movement began in 1981, when Quaker activist Jim Corbett and Presbyterian Pastor John Fife, both of Tucson, pledged to “protect, defend, and advocate for” the many people fleeing warfare and political turmoil in El Salvador and neighboring countries. Tucson was at the forefront of the movement as refugees crossed through Mexico and arrived at the Arizona border. Continue reading

The Hyde Amendment at 40: Constitutional Rights Are for Everyone … Who Can Afford Them

The debate around the Hyde Amendment has been squarely focused around abortion. Rightly so. The procedure is still a delicate topic, despite approximately 2 out of 5 women getting an abortion in their lifetimes. But the Hyde Amendment has another angle that no one is talking about. Do poor women actually have a constitutional right when they cannot afford access to that right?


The Hyde Amendment turns 40 this Friday. So what’s the Hyde Amendment?


In 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decided that individuals have a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. Roe v. Wade, along with several other cases, saw SCOTUS reasoning that a right to privacy extends to a woman’s right to an abortion. Women who lived through centuries of dangerous back-alley abortions, botched abortions, and dangerous abortifacient drugs saw Roe as a pivotal case for women’s rights.

Three years after Roe v. Wade — 40 years ago this Friday, on September 30, 1976Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois attached a rider to the annual appropriations bill. The Hyde Amendment forbade federal funds to be used for abortions. This rider has been renewed yearly, but never officially added to the bill itself. Years later, two more provisions were added to the Hyde Amendment to allow exceptions for the health of the mother and cases of rape or incest. The effect of this provision meant that thousands of poor women would no longer be able to afford an abortion. Their access to a constitutional right had been considerably decreased. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Scott Prior for State Senator, LD 16

The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014, and early voting starts today! Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” Make your voice heard in 2014!

Covering parts of Pinal and Maricopa counties, including Gold Canyon, Apache Junction, and parts of Mesa, Legislative District 16 is home to more than 220,000 Arizona residents. Scott Prior made the decision to run for Senate in LD 16 so that his fellow constituents could be represented by someone who advocates for workers, makes education a priority, and supports equality for Arizonans regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Both he and his spouse Cara are seeking to represent LD 16 to bring more attention to those issues in the legislature, with Cara running for one of the open seats in the House of Representatives. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed both Scott and Cara Prior because of their commitment to reproductive justice.

Mr. Prior returns to the campaign trail after running in 2012. At that time, he shared his thoughts with this blog on the many issues that needed to be addressed in the legislature, including Arizona’s high teen birth rate, inadequate sex education, and health care policy that interferes with private decisions between doctors and patients.

On October 4, Mr. Prior generously took the time to share his thoughts with us again, highlighting many of those same issues but explaining why he is hopeful for a better outcome in this year’s election.


“Let’s leave the practice of medicine to the doctors … and keep legislation out of it.”


It’s great to talk to you again! How has your commitment to serving Arizona grown over the past two years? On the policy level, what has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

Over the past two years, it has become even more imperative to get common sense people in the state legislature. We have seen a continuing shift over the past several years of elected officials working for the benefit of corporations and special interests, and away from helping the people of our great state. I firmly believe that until we can elect people who will concentrate on the important issues of the economy, creating jobs, and fixing our failing education, we will continue to be the laughingstock of the late-night comedy circuit.

This election cycle will be different, I believe, as my opponent doesn’t have the [same] name recognition and popularity as my opponent in 2012. This gives me hope that I might be able to make a difference, and have a good chance that this election will be much closer of a contest. My convictions are strengthened by the fact that in the 2014 primary, I gathered more votes than I did in the 2012 primary. This means that people are more interested in getting their voices heard, even in a midterm election.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed HB 2284, which permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. What do you think about this new law?

I personally believe that HB 2284 is just another way for those who don’t believe women can make their own health care choices to try to intimidate and prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights. If those same people who supported this bill spent as much time working on taking care of children after they are born as they do before they are born, then my district would not have a 16 percent child poverty rate, 11 percent of the children in my district would not be without health insurance, and education statewide would not be ranked so low compared to other states. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Victoria Steele for State Representative, LD 9

The Arizona primary election will be held on August 26, 2014. Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” In order to vote in the primaries, you must register to vote by July 28 — and can even register online. Make your voice heard in 2014!

Victoria Steele has represented Tucson’s Legislative District 9 in the Arizona House of Representatives since 2012, and is now running for reelection. To get an idea of why we’re so excited to support her, check out her recent op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star, in which she discusses how last month’s Supreme Court decisions might embolden foes of reproductive justice here in Arizona. We’re also proud to introduce you to her here!

We had a wonderful conversation on July 10 at Raging Sage in Tucson, where Ms. Steele talked to us about her accomplishments and goals; her commitment to abortion access and comprehensive sexuality education; and her Republican opponent, Ethan Orr, whose voting record on reproductive health is out of step with the views held by the majority of his constituency. While you can hope that Ethan Orr will vote in favor of women’s health, you can know that Victoria Steele and her fellow Democratic candidate Dr. Randall Friese will do so!

Read on to get to know Ms. Steele even better!


“It’ll be even harder to get our rights back if we’ve lost them all, so let’s not let that happen.”


Interviewer: I’m glad we get to meet in person this time! How has your commitment to serving Arizona grown over the past two years? On the policy level, what has happened during that time to give you hope?

Representative Steele: I was really excited to see that we were able to finally defeat SB 1062 [a bill that would have allowed discrimination on religious grounds, for example against LGBTQ people]. That gives me a lot of hope. The only reason that happened is because the community got mad. The governor’s veto came way too late as far as I’m concerned.

That was a very hopeful thing, because it showed what I really suspected was true, that a majority of the people do not feel that we have the right to discriminate. There is a very vocal minority that feels otherwise. To me, that is hopeful.

A poll of Arizona Republicans showed they were in favor of vetoing SB 1062. It just shows how quickly the tide is turning, which is pretty exciting to me.

It is. Continue reading

The 45th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots: Still Here, Still Queer, Still Not Used to It

The Gay Liberation Front, pictured here in 1969, formed in response to the Stonewall Riots. Image: PBS

The Gay Liberation Front formed in 1969 in response to the Stonewall Riots.

In 1969, homosexuality was illegal in 49 states. It was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, and it was not unheard of for those who identified as homosexual or transgender to undergo extreme treatments such as lobotomies or castration in an attempt to “cure” their conditions. If it was discovered that you were gay, you were blacklisted. Doctors and lawyers lost their licenses. Your home address was published in major newspapers. You were dishonorably discharged from military service. Non-gender-conforming people were refused service in public establishments, found it difficult to receive health care, and were routinely arrested for indecent behavior — behavior that was often simply being transgender. Society expected that you assimilate with heteronormative ideals by presenting as the gender you were born with, marrying the opposite sex, and having children.


Saturday will be the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. We have come a long way since then, but still have more work to do.


In the late 1960s, Greenwich Village was a progressive neighborhood in New York City that also served as a respite for the LGBTQ community of the time, including the poorest and most disenfranchised. The Village was also home to numerous establishments frequented by LGBTQ patrons in a time when they could not publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation or identity, lest they be arrested. These establishments — which included the Stonewall Inn (a mafia-run bar) — were often the subject of police raids.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn was raided by the New York City Police Department, just as it had been many times before. This time, Stonewall patrons did not allow themselves to be shoved into the backs of police cars. Forty-five years later, details of the riot remain conflicting and vague, but what is agreed upon is that Stormé DeLarverie — also known as King Stormé, a drag king in the drag group Jewel Box Revue — is credited with throwing the first punch in reaction to being shoved by police. With this punch, the Stonewall crowd exploded into a full-blown violent demonstration. Participants saw the violence of which they were so often the recipients suddenly being turned back on their oppressors. Continue reading

Celebrating Motherhood — and Reproductive Freedom

mother babyTwo months ago, a single mother’s ordeal was grabbing headlines. Shanesha Taylor, homeless and desperate for a job, landed an interview at a Scottsdale insurance office. But the 35-year-old mother of two faced a difficult dilemma when she went to her interview on March 21. She couldn’t find child care, but she also couldn’t afford to cancel.

Short on options, Taylor let her two boys, ages 6 months and 2 years, wait alone in her car for 45 minutes while she tried to secure a source of income for her family. Taylor was subsequently arrested for child abuse for leaving her sons unattended in a hot car. Her children were examined at an area hospital and released as uninjured, but Taylor nevertheless faced two felony counts.


The best gift to mothers would be the ability to choose motherhood without suffering tremendous financial blows.


Taylor endangered her children, but she did it because she faced a tough dilemma — a choice between what was best for them in the short term and what was best for them in the long term. She faced this dilemma in the richest nation in the world — a nation that is nonetheless the worst among rich nations in terms of family-friendly policies. Taylor’s unemployment didn’t help matters, but even for the employed, social programs are lacking. As Stephanie Coontz summarized in her interview with us last year, “We are the only rich, industrial country in the world that doesn’t have subsidized parental leave, limits on the work week, some form of national health insurance, and/or strong investments in child care and preschool.”

Consequently, parenting is an almost insurmountable expense for many. In the last 20 years, the cost of maternity care and delivery has swelled in the United States — in fact, tripling in the case of delivery. Pregnancy, delivery, and newborn care now come to $30,000 on average. Add another $20,000 if the delivery is by C-section. It’s far more than what people in other developed nations pay. Americans pay more than twice what people in Switzerland pay for childbirth, and more than three time what people in Britain pay. Continue reading