On World Population Day: Reproductive Health From Kenya to Mississippi

This past week, we celebrated World Population Day.  It’s not news to anyone that the world’s population keeps getting larger while the world stays the same size and gets a little dirtier.  Population growth is an issue that needs to be carefully addressed in the future, as the world continues to fight poverty, disease, and resource shortages.   Access to family planning and reproductive health services is a necessity not only to responsibly address population growth, but to achieve quality of life for the people who are already here on earth. Kenya recently reduced restrictions on abortions, despite political pressure from the religious and right wing groups in the United States.   Approximately 30-40 percent of the maternal death rate in Kenya is estimated to be caused by unsafe abortions.   No matter what side of the abortion debate one sides with, there is no justice in women hemorrhaging to death from an unsafe abortion.   I want to acknowledge the Kenyan government for changing policy to support the outcomes they want to achieve, rather than being pushed off course by tradition or political pressure. There is a landslide of research that has shown that family planning and birth control reduce the need for abortions.   Unfortunately, the Mexico City policy and Bush administration foreign aid policies reduced the amount of aid for family planning.  Desperate women do desperate things when there are no good options available to them.   Making abortion illegal will not deter women from trying home remedies or falling prey to the promises of back door or underground providers.  We know this.  We have seen this in our own past. We Americans argue about abortion, and now, unbelievably, birth control, from a position of privilege.  Condoms are available in drug stores and gas stations.  There are numerous of credible websites with information about reproductive health options.   We have the luxury of debating hospital verse home birth because there is an option.  We can make a 911 call or a trip to the ER if something bad happens.     Other women in other countries do not have these options.  There are no drug stores or skilled birth attendants or 911 calls to make.  To get pregnant is a risky and dangerous endeavor.  If something goes wrong during pregnancy, birth or an unsafe abortion, there is a fair chance the woman and baby might die.  Around the world, women consistently give birth in circumstances that would not be acceptable in America.  We know this – we have watched from afar and reviewed statistics and read the United Nations Population Fund fact sheets. And yet, here somehow in 2012 we are still arguing about family planning here and abroad.  Watching the fight over reproductive health this year, I feel the same way I did after watching the inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina: Disbelief that this really could be happening in America.  Despite all we know, we are still debating basic reproductive health options like birth control or the right to have an abortion due to a medical emergency. I understand the lack luster political response to family planning and abortion needs in other countries.  It’s easy for politicians to pass policy on –isms and –ologies to get votes when we don’t have skin in the game.  But I don’t know how to explain the lack of concern in America by the general population about our reproductive health options.  Maybe we don’t believe that we can slide backwards enough to get upset. But Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is fighting to keep its doors open.   Are we going to wait until the maternal death rate in Mississippi gets to an unacceptable rate before doing something to increase reproductive health services?  Desperate women do desperate things when there are no good options available to them.   We know this.  In so many horrible statistics that represent women’s lives ended and ruined, we know this.           Photo Credit AP Photo

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