International Day for Maternal Health and Rights is long overdue

Sima Naik discusses breastfeeding and the importance of good nutrition in the first 1,000 days after birth with Rebati Naik, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA), in Badamahuladhia village, Odisha, India. © 2014 John Nicholson, SPRING Project, Courtesy of Photoshare

Sima Naik discusses breastfeeding and the importance of good nutrition in the first 1,000 days after birth with Rebati Naik, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA), in Badamahuladhia village, Odisha, India. © 2014 John Nicholson, SPRING Project, Courtesy of Photoshare

We join with dozens of global organizations in demanding that the United Nations recognize April 11th as International Day for Maternal Health and Rights.

Why? Well….

  1. Maternal mortality rates around the world are still staggering. Every day, more than 800 women die due to mostly preventable pregnancy and childbirth complications. Unsafe abortions account for 13 percent of maternal deaths globally. Other major contributors to maternal mortality include lack of access to health clinics, services, and information; low awareness of the benefits of using trained midwives; and infections due to unsanitary clinics and living environments.
  2. Nearly half of abortions around the world are unsafe. While activists around the world are working to increase safe and legal abortion services, the rates of unsafe and life-threatening procedures remain high. For example, in Africa 97 percent of abortions are unsafe, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In some countries, such as Nepal, even though abortion is legal, due to cultural practices, poverty, and lack of services, women continue to use unsafe procedures that endanger their health. Furthermore, the Helms Amendment – a long-standing U.S. law limiting foreign aid funding for abortion – is being misapplied to prevent the United States from funding all life-saving abortion services abroad. Maternal rights include having the ability to become a mother only when and if one wants.
  3. Reproductive rights are under attack in the U.S. and around the world. Since 2010, anti-abortion politicians have established more than 230 laws restricting abortion access in various states around the country. Just this year, restrictions have been introduced in Indiana and Louisiana, and the Supreme Court is discussing a Texas law that has led to the closure of many clinics decreasing women’s access to safe abortions in the state dramatically. The U.S. is not alone in experiencing this surge in hostile attitudes towards women’s right to choose. Protestors in Northern Ireland and Poland have spent the last few days rallying against their own restrictive laws. Abortion supporters in Sierra Leone went to the streets in protest after President Bai Koromo blocked a bill (for the second time) that would remove some of the country’s strict restrictions on abortion access. Even access to contraception is being challenged by extremist religious groups in the U.S. and abroad.

225 million women and girls—many of them already mothers—don’t want to get pregnant but aren’t using contraception. When clinics close, mothers, especially those living in poverty, are harmed. When access to birth control is threatened, mothers in countries that already have high birth rates are more likely to face poverty and health complications. When safe abortions are made illegal, mothers are among the thousands of women around the world who lose their lives to unsafe back alley procedures. Establishing a global day for maternal health and rights can bring new focus and energy to these tremendous issues and foster the political climate necessary for sustainable change for mothers around the world.

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