Congress Must Prioritize Combating Maternal Mortality

By Heather Lasher, Demand Dignity Campaigner

It’s 2011, a new year, a chance for new beginnings.  But not everyone will have a get to experience the excitement of the new year.  In the short time that has passed since we watched the ball drop in Times Square earlier this week, more than 5,000 women have died from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – one woman every 90 seconds, 1,000 women every day.

A continued lack of attention to maternal health takes the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and girls each year, and denies countless others their dignity.  In Sierra Leone, for example, one out of every 21 women will die during pregnancy or childbirth.  Here in the United States, women face a greater lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related complications than do women in 49 other countries, and African-American women are nearly four times as likely to die as are Caucasian women.

The death of women in pregnancy and childbirth is not just a public health emergency, it is a human rights crisis.  The United States can, and should, play a role in responding.

Last year, congressional champions introduced legislation – like the Global MOMS Act and the MOMS for the 21st Century Act – to expand access to quality maternal health care and remove barriers to care.  This week, a new Congress convened in Washington, with a new agenda.  It’s now up to us to remind our legislators that the crisis of maternal mortality will not go away on its own; it requires their commitment to action.

Help ensure that maternal mortality ranks high on Congress’ list of priorities.  Demand that our congressional leaders pass legislation to combat maternal mortality at home and around the world.

The Global MOMS Act: From Commitment to Action

On Tuesday, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) introduced the Improving Global Maternal and Child Health Outcomes While Maximizing Successes Act — or the Global MOMS Act — which would take steps to fulfill U.S. commitments to improving maternal health around the world.

In 2000, the United States — along with the whole of the international community — pledged to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. President Obama has said he will make the MDGs “America’s Goals”. But MDG 5, which targets a 75% cut in maternal mortality, is the farthest off-track of all the goals. Hundreds of thousands of women continue to die every year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

Two years ago, the House and Senate both passed resolutions affirming Congress’s commitment to fighting maternal mortality abroad and at home.

The Global MOMS Act is a key step in making good on those commitments. It would expand access to the full continuum of maternal health care, from voluntary family planning through postpartum care. It would “ensure that [maternal health care] services are based in individual human rights”. And it would call for development of a national strategy for fighting global maternal mortality, and better coordinate existing U.S. maternal health efforts.

The bill is endorsed by 17 organizations, including Amnesty International, CARE, and the White Ribbon Alliance. Eight of Rep. Capps’s House colleagues are already on board as co-sponsors. Ask your representative to co-sponsor the bill today!

Faraaz Mahomed and Heather Lasher contributed to this post.