• Press Release

Public Invited to Join Mother’s Day Card Campaign as United States Falls Behind 49 Other Countries in Rate of Maternal Deaths

May 7, 2011

Amnesty International Press Release
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, [email protected]

Amnesty International Rallying Supporters Nationwide During May, Urging Congress to Act on Growing Maternal Health Care Crisis as New Figures Show Greater Risks Across Income Groups

Public Invited to Join Mother’s Day Card Campaign as United States Falls Behind 49 Other Countries in Rate of Maternal Deaths

(New York) – As new data shows American women in both low- and middle-income areas face greater risks of dying during pregnancy and childbirth, Amnesty International is rallying supporters for Mother’s Day and throughout May to push Congress to act quickly to improve access to care and standards of maternity care. In a new one-year update to its groundbreaking study, Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, Amnesty International reports women living in low-income areas are twice as likely to die in childbirth while those in middle-income areas face a 58 percent higher risk, compared with women in wealthier areas.

Amnesty International is inviting the public to get involved in its campaign to save women’s lives by writing special Mother’s Day cards urging Congress to act. The cards are available at no cost and the organization will collect and distribute them to members of Congress. For details, visit: https://www.amnestyusa.org/mothersday

The urgency to act comes as the United Nations 2011 worldwide data for maternal deaths showed the United States slipped to 50th (from 41st), meaning giving birth in the United States is more dangerous than in 49 other countries – including nearly all European countries, Canada and several countries in Asia and the Middle East.

Additionally, the United States was one of just 23 countries worldwide where the rate of maternal deaths increased, while rates declined in 147 countries. Despite improvement, the rate of maternal deaths worldwide remains unacceptably high, an indication that government efforts to reverse the trend must be accelerated, Amnesty International said. Worldwide a woman dies giving birth every 90 seconds. The vast majority of these deaths can be prevented.

“As a country, it is simply immoral to accept the fact that income is such a strong determinant in who lives or dies while giving birth,” said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “This is a human rights scandal. We must do whatever we can to stop women dying needlessly in childbirth.”

Amnesty International’s campaign focuses on passage of the Maternal Health Accountability Act (H.R.894), a bipartisan bill that promises a dramatic step forward to fight serious pregnancy complications and maternal deaths. The bipartisan bill responds to many of the serious concerns raised in Amnesty’s Deadly Delivery report. A briefing on the bill will take place in Congress on Wednesday, May 11, hosted by Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), the lead sponsor of the legislation. From April 29 to May 8, Amnesty International activists across the country will meet with 100 members of Congress seeking support for the legislation. There are currently 35 co-sponsors.

The Conyers bill would help establish maternal mortality review committees in every state to examine pregnancy-related deaths and identify ways to reduce deaths. The legislation would also help eliminate disparities in health care, risks and outcomes, and would improve data collection and research in order to reduce the frequency of severe maternal complications.

Among those speaking at the Capitol Hill briefing will be Amnesty International researcher Nan Strauss, co-author of Deadly Delivery, a representative of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and model-activist Christy Turlington Burns, the founder of Every Mother Counts and director of the documentary film No Woman No Cry, which will be broadcast nationally on Saturday, May 7, on the Oprah Winfrey Network. To raise awareness during the month of advocacy, Amnesty International activists nationwide will host house parties to watch the film (9:30 p.m. ET), which documents Burns’ journey across four continents – to Tanzania, Bangladesh, Guatemala and to a prenatal clinic in the United States – to portray the powerful stories of women facing life-threatening risks giving birth

In its one-year update to Deadly Delivery, Amnesty International highlights the disturbing fact that women living in the lowest-income areas of the United States are twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, based on new analysis by the Maternal Child Health Bureau.
The government for the first time linked maternal death data to census figures on income levels.

Read the update here: https://www.amnestyusa.org/pdf/DeadlyDeliveryOneYear.pdf

Amnesty International’s Deadly Delivery report consistently found that low-income women faced substantial barriers to obtaining medical care during pregnancy. These barriers went beyond the financial burden of care, and included: shortages of medical professionals in their areas, particularly specialists; difficulty finding transportation to doctor’s appointments, obtaining child care, and leaving work for appointments.

States with high rates of poverty (18 percent or more of the population living below the poverty line) had maternal mortality rates 77 percent higher than states with fewer residents living below the poverty line.

More than 4 million women give birth each year in the United States, and the cost totals $98 billion. Figures reported by the International Federation of Health Plans showed that the United States spends twice as much as any other country surveyed on the fees charged by maternal health care providers.

With the rate of caesarian sections rising for the 13th consecutive year – to an all-time high of 32.9 percent of all births in 2009 (latest available figures), new analysis shows that states with the highest rates of caesareans had a 21-percent elevated risk of maternal deaths. The World Health Organization recommends that caesarian births account for only 5 to 15 percent of all births.

In its updated report, Amnesty International said that while the sweeping health care reform bill signed into law by President Obama in 2010 begins to address some concerns about access to maternal health care, many “significant gaps and obstacles remain.”

Maternal health is a human right for every woman. Yet the United States lacks a robust government response to this critical problem including the lack of nationally standardized protocols to address the leading causes of death in childbirth – or the inconsistent use of them. In addition, the number of deaths may be significantly understated because there is no federal requirement to report maternal deaths and data collection at the state level is insufficient.

Additional events in the month of action include:

Tuesday, May 3, Houston: panel discussion and poetry reading highlighting the maternal health care crisis in Texas (where rates are worse than the national average) and Harris County (where rates are worse than the state average).
Wednesday, May 4, Chicago: panel discussion and health fair in Englewood, a community in which women are more than 2.5 times more likely to receive no prenatal care than the city average, according to recent Chicago public health department statistics."

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.

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