When we talk about procedures and treatments that prevent heart attacks, we call it cardiac care. Children receive pediatric care, and anyone who takes ibuprofen is dealing with pain care.
So why would anyone object to calling a legal medical procedure that one in three women will utilize in their lifetime abortion care?
After all, that’s what it is — essential, effective medical care. Let’s take a break from the political side of the discussion about choice and look at it from a different point of view. How do birth control and abortion care improve the public health?
Each year, about one million infants die on the same day they’re born. This includes about 11,300 infants in the United States. That’s 30 infant deaths each and every day! If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is.
According to Save the Children, the U.S. has the highest first-day infant mortality rate of any country in the industrialized world. This is 50 percent more first-day deaths than all the other industrialized countries combined.
We have a premature birth crisis in this country that can be directly linked to our failure to provide adequate contraception and abortion care. About half of pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended, and for those women who carry their pregnancies to term (more than half do), the prognosis is anything but great. They not only experience higher rates of premature birth, but also are more likely to have inadequate prenatal care, low birth weight and small size infants, maternal depression and anxiety.
From a public health point of view, abortion care, no less than contraception, is an essential measure to prevent the heartbreak of infant mortality, and to prevent another tragedy as well — maternal death.
The State of the World’s Mothers report by Save the Children found,
“The U.S. preterm birth rate (1 in 8 births) is one of the highest in the industrialized world (second only to Cyprus). In fact, 130 countries from all across the world have lower preterm birth rates than the United States. The U.S. prematurity rate is twice that of Finland, Japan, Norway and Sweden. The United States has over half a million preterm births each year — the sixth largest number in the world (after India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Indonesia).”
A big part of this shameful failure of our public health system is the fact that the U.S. has the highest adolescent birth rate of any industrialized country. And because teen mothers tend to be poorer, less educated and receive less prenatal care than older women, babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be low birth weight and be born prematurely, and to die in their first month.
Mothers are dying too. According to the Washington Post,
“The United States is one of just eight countries to see a rise in maternal mortality over the past decade, said researchers for the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in a study published in The Lancet, a weekly medical journal. The others are Afghanistan, Greece, and several countries in Africa and Central America.”
“The researchers estimated that 18.5 mothers died for every 100,000 births in the U.S. in 2013, a total of almost 800 deaths. That is more than double the maternal mortality rate in Saudi Arabia and Canada, and more than triple the rate in the United Kingdom.”
Now, many factors are behind these statistics, including an improvement in how maternal deaths are reported. But do the math — as more states like Texas and North Carolina restrict access to abortion care, more women are dying in childbirth or pregnancy, and more infants are not surviving to their first birthday. Politicians may try to separate out abortion, or abortion and contraception, from the continuum of women’s reproductive health care, but when they do, women’s lives are needlessly cut short. Whatever you call that, you can’t call it “pro-life.”
There’s a reason why the American Public Health Association has, since 1967, recognized as a public health issue the importance of women’s access to safe abortion services in the United States. It’s important to remember, as the political debate continues to escalate, that when we talk about abortion we’re talking about health care.
I’ll continue to fight for reproductive rights and choice — but when I talk about abortion, I’ll call it abortion care. And so should you.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with National Women’s Health Week, May 11-17. Read all posts in the series here. To learn more, please visit WomensHealth.gov.
Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 05/13/2014