Posts Tagged ‘Reproductive Rights’

Reproductive justice and infant mortality

November 15, 2014

Liberals believe in a woman’s right to choose whether to become pregnant or not.  This right includes access to sex education, birth control and legal abortion.  But if the right to choose is to be fully realized, it should include the right to have a child and ensure the child is well cared for.

imrsThe United States in general, and my home city of Rochester, NY, in particular, have an unusually high rate of infant mortality, especially among poor African-American women.  It’s not quite as bad as the statistics indicate, because the USA counts as infant deaths what many other industrial countries count as miscarriages.  But even taking that into account, it’s pretty bad.

If you break down the figures, the American problem is mainly a high infant mortality rate among African-Americans.  In 2010, 614 out of every 100,000 American babies died in the first year of life.  Broken down by race, the rate per 100,000 was 1,146 black babies, 518 non-Hispanic white babies and 528 Hispanic babies.

This is partly due to lack of good medical care and advice, and partly due to a much higher rate of premature births among African-American mothers.  Nobody is sure why African American women have more premature births, but one factor is stress.  Women in Medicaid, single mothers and mothers whose husbands are deployed in the military are more likely to have premature births.

infantmortalitybyraceethnicitySome people think that the stress of racism is a factor.  I would not dismiss that idea out of hand.  I’ve felt extremely self-conscious on occasions when I was the only white person in the room, and I have often wondered what it would be like to be black and have to deal with this feeling all the time.

Immigrant black women have fewer premature births than native-born black women, which supports the theory, although, as the third chart indicates, immigrant white women also have fewer premature births.  Another fact that supports the stress theory is there is the same disparity between upper-class black and white mothers as among the poor.

My city of Rochester, NY, is known for medical research and excellent medical care.  Back in the 1990s, First Lady Hillary Clinton visited to praise Rochester’s community-rated health insurance.  But the figures indicate that our city as a whole, and our African-American residents are much worse and that, for some reason, the infant mortality rate among Hispanics is unusually high.

infantmortalitybyraceimmigrationstatus12The infant mortality rate in Monroe County is reported 1,420 per 100,000 births for African-Americans, 1,170 for Hispanics and 450 for whites.  The infant mortality rate in the city of Rochester is also 1,170 per 100,000, but 420 in the predominantly white Monroe County suburbs.

I don’t see anything obvious to be done about the stress of racism, but there is a lot that can be done to make sure pregnant women and new mothers get medical help and adequate nutrition.

The infant mortality rate is going down, although slowly, and there are programs that have made dramatic improvements, such as Kaiser Permanente Northeast California Early Start, Syracuse’s Health Start and the University of Rochester’s Baby Love.  The Affordable Care Act includes the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, which provides grants for such local programs.

It seems to me that if you believe in women’s right to choose, the right to choice does not end at birth.  If you believe in the right to life, the right to life does not end at birth, either.  Preventing deaths of infants in childbirth should be a purpose all Americans support.

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What is reproductive justice?

October 19, 2012

The reproductive justice framework – the right to have children, not have children, and to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments — is based on the human right to make personal decisions about one’s life, and the obligation of government and society to ensure that the conditions are suitable for implementing one’s decisions.

via SisterSong.

I recently learned a new buzzword—”reproductive justice”—which is being promoted by a black women’s group called SisterSong, and recently has been taken up by my own religious denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association.  The idea behind the phrase is that a women’s right to choose whether or not to have children goes far beyond the right to an abortion.  It means that women who want to have children ought to be free from the fear that they won’t be able to feed, clothe and shelter the children, that the children won’t be able to get medical care, that there won’t be day care when they go off to work, and so on.

I’ve read the platforms of the political parties on this subject, and it is one in which there is a real and meaningful divide.  The Democratic Party and even more so the Green Party endorse reproductive justice.   The Libertarian Party defines the issue as one of individual rights and responsibilities.  A woman has the right to get an abortion or not, as she chooses, the Libertarians say, but then it is the individual responsibility of the parent or parents to care for the child.

The Republican Party platform says the issue is not the right of the mother, but the right of the fetus, or unborn child, to be born.  It endorses help for mothers to make sure they are able to bring the child to term and then, if the mother is unmarried, to enable the newborn child to be adopted into a two-parent family.

I don’t quarrel with the two-parent man-woman family as an ideal, or with encouragement of adoption.  I know a woman who was an adopted child and, as an adult, sought out her birth mother.   The birth mother was a mentally ill person who would have been unable to care for her, so she is thankful to have been adopted.  But there aren’t enough adoptive parents to go around, and of course not every child is adoptable.

I agree with SisterSong, and I like the Democratic and Green party platforms on this issue, but I also think reproductive justice is as much about the responsibilities of parenting as it is about the rights of women.  I know a woman my own age who has tried to befriend a young unmarried mother who lives in the same apartment house.  She could teach the young mother much about housekeeping and child care, but neither the mother nor the irresponsible father think they need help or advice.  I think people like that are a problem, and I don’t know of any government program that is a solution—not that I advocate abandoning the children to their fate.

I imagine that if any SisterSong members read this post, they would respond that they know their responsibilities as mothers very well, and don’t need any admonitions from an elderly, childless, well-off white man such as myself.  Maybe so.  I hope I do not propagate the stereotype of the black unmarried mother drawing welfare.  To the extent that what I describe is a problem, it is not a problem of just one ethnic group.

Click on SisterSong for their web page.

Click on Why I Don’t Think Abortion Is Murder for an earlier post on the abortion issue.

Click on Honey Boo Boo Nation for thoughts on the limitations of reproductive justice.

Click on highlighted words for the full Republican, Democratic, Green and Libertarian party platforms, or read the portions of the platforms relevant to the reproductive justice issue below.

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