UN Must Push Abortion Less and Push Better Maternal Health Care More

International   |   Wendy Wright   |   Jul 10, 2014   |   6:44PM   |   New York, NY

New York, NY  (CFAM) — Pay attention to mothers! So says a new paper for UN delegates as they nail down new goals that will guide international development until 2030.

“As countries decide the future of the world’s development priorities and how billions of dollars will be spent, the fate of mothers lies in their hands,” states the paper from C-FAM, publisher of the Friday Fax.

unitednations2Too often, women die in pregnancy and childbirth. In 2000, countries agreed to make motherhood safer. But they have fallen far short of the 75% reduction in maternal deaths promised in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), a set of ambitious objectives that expire in 2015.

New development goals will pick up where the MDGs leave off. Authors Rebecca Oas and Stefano Gennarini point out that mothers got the short end of the stick under past U.N. policies, in “The Unfinished Business of MDG5 on Maternal Health and the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

The majority of the 350,000 maternal deaths each year occur in poor countries. Mothers “die frequently in unclean conditions, alone, in terror and agony without trained assistants, or access to proper life saving care,” says Dr. Robert Walley of MaterCare International.

A landmark study from Chile clarifies what steps reduce maternal mortality: Education for women, skilled birth attendants, prenatal and antenatal care, access to water and sanitation, and emergency obstetric care.

A common problem among women of childbearing age is iron deficiency – a condition to watch in the developed world, but life-threatening for a pregnant woman in a poor country who hemorrhages. Improving nutrition will save both mothers’ and babies’ lives.

Each solution is best achieved by improving infrastructure, particularly health care.

Yet attention and funding is siphoned away from what helps mothers survive childbirth and toward avoiding motherhood altogether. Advocates for family planning have made contraception a top global priority, and $60 billion is spent each year on population programs. Only a fraction of that money goes to saving mothers’ lives.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Planned Parenthood, and others ask for even more money to cover a projected 220 million women with an “unmet need” for family planning. But this claim is misleading, the paper explains.

In Africa—the focus of most family planning initiatives—98% of married women have access to modern contraceptives. Many choose not to use them due to concerns about side effects and health risks, or because they are breastfeeding, have infrequent or no sex, or oppose contraception.

Family planning groups say they need resources to “increase demand,” that is, to convince women to use contraception.

In the meantime, thousands of women die each year for lack of improvements to maternal health care. Reproductive health programs often focus on eliminating maternity, rather than making motherhood safe.

That may become worse if the term “reproductive rights” gets included in the new goals. The term switches the focus from concrete measurable results to creating norms and changing laws. It entangles uncontroversial measures with issues like abortion that spark politically divisive debates.

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Groups like Dr. Walley’s have been turned down for funding because they don’t provide abortion – what some call a “reproductive right” – even though abortion carries medical risks, and is especially unsafe for women in places where childbirth is dangerous.

In 2012, countries ditched any mention of “reproductive rights” to reach the agreement that launched the effort to develop new goals. While then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chided the omission, other diplomats denounced attempts to impose “red line items,” like abortion, that directly conflict with national laws.

LifeNews.com Note: Wendy Wright writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.