Almost 800 women die every day due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth.
That is close to 300,000 maternal deaths annually. The figure becomes even more alarming when you look at the fact that young girls face higher risks during pregnancy than older women: According to the World Health Organization, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death of girls aged 15 to 19.
These women and girls tend to live in rural areas and in poorer communities — and 99 percent live in developing countries. The vast majority of these deaths are preventable. We just need the political will to help prevent them.
Unsafe abortion is a leading cause of the high rates of maternal mortality, and policies like the Helms Amendment are exacerbating this by restricting women’s access to safe and legal abortion services.
The Helms Amendment was passed as part of a wave of anti-abortion backlash to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973, and prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for the performance of abortion “as a method of family planning.” Since it was enacted, this harmful policy has restricted women in some of the poorest countries in the world from accessing vital, lifesaving health care they need.
The Obama administration — like each administration before it — has applied the Helms Amendment much more restrictively than required by law: It prohibits funding for all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, when the life of the woman is in danger, and even in countries where abortion is legal in these circumstances.
It is time for President Obama to take action on the Helms Amendment.
We are all in this together.
As the biggest donor in the world when it comes to supporting women’s health in developing countries, the United States needs to ensure its policies respect and advance the rights and lives of women around the world.
Whether it’s in the United States or abroad, a woman shouldn’t be denied the health care she needs — especially when a pregnancy threatens her life. The current interpretation of the Helms Amendment is a true barrier to maternal health and rights at the global level.
Consider the case of a 14-year-old girl who has been raped and is forced to carry her pregnancy to term. She faces numerous health risks and dangerous outcomes, including death. It is our responsibility to make sure our government’s policies, programs, and partners further the idea that all women’s lives matter — and not create additional barriers to accessing safe, legal, and lifesaving services.