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House Approves Measure on Maternal Mortality

On May 21, the House approved, by voice vote, a resolution (H. Res. 1022) reflecting the House of Representatives’ commitment to reducing maternal mortality both at home and abroad. Sponsored by Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA), the resolution contained a number of findings, including:

  •  more than 536,000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth every year, which is one woman every minute;
  •  girls under age 15 are estimated to be five times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their twenties;
  •  nearly all these deaths are preventable;
  •  care by skilled birth attendants, nurses, midwives, or doctors during pregnancy and childbirth, including emergency services, and care for mothers and newborns is essential;
  •  the poorer the household, the greater the risk of maternal death, and 99 percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries;
  •  newborns whose mothers die of any cause are three to ten times more likely to die within two years than those whose mothers survive;
  •  more than one million children are left motherless and vulnerable every year;
  •  young girls are often pulled from school and required to fill their lost mother’s roles;
  •  in countries with similar levels of economic development, maternal mortality is highest where women’s status is lowest;
  •  the overall United States maternal mortality ratio is now 11 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the highest rates among industrialized nations; and
  •  ethnic and racial disparities in maternal mortality rates persist and in the United States maternal mortality among black women is almost four times the rate among non-Hispanic white women.The resolution expresses the House of Representatives’ “commitment to promoting maternal health and child survival both at home and abroad through greater international investment and participation; and recognizes maternal health and child survival as fundamental to the well-being of families and societies, and to global development and prosperity.”

    Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said, “As an original cosponsor of this resolution and a member of the [Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues], I am proud to speak out in support of its passage…Globally, it is estimated that 15 percent of pregnancies and childbirths involve unpredictable and often life-threatening complications that require emergency care. What makes this statistic so staggering is that nearly all of these situations are preventable. Even more astounding is the fact that the United States ranks a staggering 41st among 171 countries in a United Nations list ranking infant mortality. We can, and we must, do a better job. The resolution before us affirms our commitment to promoting maternal mortality and child survival, both at home and abroad. It also recognizes that maternal health is fundamental to the well-being of families and societies. I want to thank my colleagues, Congresswoman Lois Capps, Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and the rest of the Congressional Women’s Caucus for their leadership on this issue, and I urge my colleagues to join me in support of its adoption.”

    Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, “What is most unfortunate and thereby, should be unacceptable, is the fact that most maternal deaths are avoidable. With proper prenatal care and maternal health care, sanitary conditions for delivery, and available lifesaving emergency interventions, [all of which are] essential obstetrical services, these lives need not be lost. Even in our own country maternal mortality, although rarer than in the developing world, occurs. No loss of life is acceptable.” Rep. Smith added, “[H]emorrhaging and blood loss are the top cause of maternal mortality and are of grave concern. During a [House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health] hearing that I chaired during the previous Congress…Dr. Neelam Dhingra of the World Health Organization…informed us that the most common cause of maternal death in sub-Saharan Africa is severe bleeding, which can take the life of even a healthy woman within two hours, if not properly and immediately treated. She gave us the astounding statistic that in Africa, severe bleeding during delivery, or after childbirth, contributes to up to 44 percent of maternal deaths, many of which could be prevented simply through access to safe blood. Sufficient quantity and quality of immediately available and usable blood must become the norm and not the exception.”

    In a statement submitted for the record, Rep. Capps said, “I was proud [to] introduce this resolution with my colleague and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues, [Rep.] Cathy McMorris Rodgers [R-WA]. And I am equally proud that 122 members of the House joined in cosponsoring H. Res. 1022, including almost every single woman member of the House and our esteemed Speaker Nancy Pelosi.” Rep. Capps continued, “Last fall, I was fortunate to lead a delegation of women members to a conference entitled ‘Women Deliver.’ This conference brought together nearly 2,000 participants from around the world, including parliamentarians, diplomats, health professionals, patients, and activists. We joined there and resolved to make a greater investment in women in order to improve maternal health. No woman should have to die giving life and I was proud to see individuals from every background ethnically, culturally, religiously, and from all income levels agree that we must deliver for women by ensuring that they can safely deliver. The 500,000 maternal deaths that occur annually are largely preventable. We know that through family planning, making emergency care more widely available, and increasing the number of skilled health professionals who can attend to births, we can combat the epidemic of maternal death both at home and abroad…As we close out the month of May, when we celebrated Mother’s Day, let’s join in making a stronger commitment to improving maternal health.”

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