In Congress yesterday, Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) proposed an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee that would strike language defining which benefits employers would be required to cover (so the pill can go, but you can bet no one’s getting rid of Viagra coverage). Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) argued against him, saying that insurers need to be required to cover basic maternity care – shockingly, there are several states that don’t have this legislation.
Kyl said, charmingly, “I don’t need maternity care. So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.” Oh, isn’t it great that he stood up for those poor white males in Congress? There are just so few of them – and they never get heard.
Stabenow interrupted: “I think your mom probably did.”
The amendment was defeated, nine to 14. If only had been there to high-five Stabenow – then my day would have been complete.
I wish that all of the people who don’t think that maternal health is a priority were defeated with a snappy quip. But even though women’s health worldwide is getting more and more press coverage – and, dare I say it, becoming hip? – we’re still incredibly far from providing adequate care for mothers, even in some of the most developed countries. Some of the most blatant examples of deficiencies in maternal health get caught up in Islamophobia (as with the 12-year-old Yemeni girl who died in childbirth a few weeks ago – a horrifying story that nevertheless has as much to do with maternal health as it does with marriage practices in Yemen) or are glossed over in a general attempt to “empower” women, mostly through microfinance (does anyone else have another idea? Anyone? Because I would LOVE to talk about something other than microfinance).
Some very ambitious goals were set at the G8 conference in July, making maternal health part of the Millennium Development Goals. Goal number 5 aims to reduce maternal mortality by a staggering 75% by 2015. The focus on maternal care didn’t start with the conference, though – ever since the NYT magazine on global women’s issues (which I had mixed feelings about at the time – read my post on Equal Writes here), there has been a really astonishing amount of attention paid to maternal mortality.
Last week, the White Ribbon Alliance hosted an Important Dinner for Women, which was attended by, among others, the queen of Jordan, Diane Von Furstenberg, Tyra Banks and Martha Stewart. All of the attendees signed a pledge to aid the Maternal Mortality Campaign in some way, and then the photo shoots began. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m really skeptical of the way that women helping women is turned into a fashion show. I don’t care what they wore to the dinner – I care about what they said.
The fact is, according to the WHO, a woman dies every minute because of pregnancy or childbirth. That’s 1,440 women a day, and over half a million women a year. In the U.S., 2-3 women die of pregnancy-related complications a day – not as dramatic, but still deeply problematic, especially when you consider that African-American women are 3 times as likely to die. According to the CDC, at least half of these women’s lives could be saved by adequate maternal care. It’s wonderful that people are suddenly paying attention to women’s health on a national and global level – but I’m hoping that it isn’t just another fad taken up by celebrities. I also hope that focus isn’t placed solely on prenatal and maternal care, and that we devote as much attention to making sure that women have access to contraceptives and family planning so that they can choose how many children they want to have and control when they have them – child spacing, for example, is crucial to maternal health.
Dr. Ana Langer, the president of EngenderHealth, had a great post up at HuffPo a few weeks ago about how planning pregnancies can save women’s lives (she encourages all of us to contact our legislators about a spending increase in the FY10 Foreign Operations Bill – if you’re interested in learning more, check out this link). And of course you can always check out Pathfinder International (a great reproductive health organization that I volunteered with in Vietnam last summer) or Marie Stopes International for more info. And of course, if you live in Missouri, call your senator and congratulate her for standing up for women’s health.
Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/mcgraths/3659139185