There is little doubt that there are significant policy differences between the two major parties in the United States, and that those vast differences ripple down into the daily lives of everyone in the country. However, a new study says that those differences may have more impact than we know, including weighing in on the well-being of the youngest of our citizens.
According to the International Journal of Epidemiology, the party in control of the White House has a traceable influence on the infant mortality rate in the country, and it is a trend that can be observed all through the last half a century. In a new report called “US infant mortality and the President’s party,” infant mortality increased statistically whenever there was a Republican President in office.
“Across all nine presidential administrations, infant mortality rates were below trend when the President was a Democrat and above trend when the President was a Republican,” summarizes the study’s authors. “This was true for overall, neonatal and postneonatal mortality. Regression estimates show that, relative to trend, Republican administrations were characterized by infant mortality rates that were, on average, 3% higher than Democratic administrations. In proportional terms, effect size is similar for US Whites and Blacks. US Black rates are more than twice as high as White, implying substantially larger absolute effects for Blacks.”
It’s the sort of study that should be taken with a grain of salt, of course, and many critics of the conclusion are already rebutting the study’s claims. Especially unclear in the overall argument is how exactly the party of the person in power correlates to or is responsible for overall public health, particularly if he is faced with a Congress in control of the opposite party.
Still, as a mental exercise, there are a number of reasons why infant mortality could go up with Republican “values” at the helm of the country, despite claims from the party that they protect and cherish the act of giving birth.
The study’s authors said they took into effect outside issues such as education disparities and economic conditions. Still there are a number of straight health care factors that would make it far more likely for Republican policies to create a higher infant mortality rate. Just looking at our current battle over health care reform is a clear indicator of GOP priorities, as Republicans continue to attempt to undo new requirements that make maternity care a standard part of any insurance plan, as well as fight attempts to make birth control easier to access, a factor that can help with child spacing and allow women more time between giving birth and the next pregnancy.
Quality prenatal care is the greatest determiner in a health pregnancy and child, and it’s a luxury that many Republicans want to deny, especially to undocumented immigrants. Instead of offering medical care and monitoring, some states continue to fight to deny any sort of doctors visit to someone undocumented, even knowing that could lead to complications for the mother and child down the road.
Adequate economic policies also have a key role to play in positive outcomes for infants. A pregnant person without the ability to take leave during pregnancy complications, or simply have small changes in her job to allow her easier work, will be more likely to put their pregnancies at risk, one of the reasons that Pregnant Worker Protection laws have begun passing in states across the country. More paid leave, or at least partially paid leave, via Family Medical Leave Act or short term disability policies allow women who have just given birth the chance to stay home and care for their children in those crucial first days, weeks and months after birth.
Even basic environmental and food policies play roles in infant mortality. A pregnant person with good nutrition will have a healthier baby. A fetus not exposed to environmental toxins will thrive. Something as simple as a pregnant person not eating food with a listeria or e.coli outbreak because the packaging plant was adequately inspected will make a difference in preventing stillbirth.
Is it too simple to say that more babies die under GOP presidents than Democratic presidents? Of course. But there’s a part of us that does believe it. And we believe it because we know that the policies we see put into play by each party have an effect on our daily lives, and those policies truly do have impact on the health of our children. Taken one by one, GOP policies really, truly do cause our children harm.
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