#IntlMHDay: We must end U.S. policies that threaten global maternal health and rights

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By Zoë Bulls, Advocacy and Partnerships Associate

More than 303,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth every year. That’s 830 women every day — and many of these deaths are preventable.

April 11 is International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, when we celebrate every person’s right to respectful, quality, safe, and comprehensive maternal health care. Approximately 15% of all pregnancies worldwide are affected by life-threatening but preventable complications. Adolescents are at significant risk for maternal complications, with maternal deaths ranking as the leading cause of death for girls aged 15–19.

As a matter of survival, women need integrated, evidence-based, and cost-effective care before, during, and after pregnancy. And it’s widely known that women die from complications in pregnancy or childbirth because their country’s health system lacks resources and their government’s allocation of health resources overlooks women’s needs.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration also overlooks — or outright ignores — the reality of maternal health and rights. Its expansion and recent further expansion of the Global Gag Rule makes this evident. The Global Gag Rule interrupts health systems and service delivery by removing critical funding from organizations and clinics that provide comprehensive health care in under-resourced areas.

Researchers from Stanford University conducted a study in 2011 that showed the Global Gag Rule is associated with an increase in abortions, likely because the policy’s restrictive funding limits access to and availability of contraceptives.

In his recent announcement of the further expansion of the Global Gag Rule, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that “American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions.” Maybe the Secretary’s phrasing was intentional — to “underwrite” means to “assume liability for.” The Global Gag Rule increases the number of abortions worldwide, leading to unsafe abortions and increased rates of maternal death.

Data show that the Trump administration’s policies will be a contributor to higher maternal mortality rates in countries that receive U.S. global health assistance. Despite the administration’s lip service to the cause of family health, more women will die and more abortions will happen because of its expansion of the Global Gag Rule.

We cannot continue to subject other countries to this administration's inhumane policies that increase barriers for women around the world to access comprehensive maternal health care.

This International Day for Maternal Health and Rights, call your members of Congress and ask them to support the Global HER Act, which would permanently end the Global Gag Rule. Together, we can end this dangerous policy and demand quality maternal health care worldwide.

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