Time to Talk About Obstetric Fistula

By Erin Matson, NOW Action Vice President

Obstetric fistula is a preventable injury during childbirth that can cause a lifetime of incontinence, extreme social isolation and even human rights violations for women if left untreated. Today an estimated two million women, primarily in developing countries, are living with obstetric fistula (it is more rare within industrialized nations because of access to better medical care).

A bill introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) aims to change that. H.R. 949, the Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope, and Dignity Restoration Act of 2011 would authorize funding to prevent and treat obstetric fistula around the globe. This bill would literally give women and girls (yes, girls — child brides are among those most at risk for this devastating injury) a new lease on life and an opportunity to re-integrate into their communities. On average, surgery is able to correct 90 percent of cases and costs about $300.

In addition to treatment, the bill would help prevent cases by providing resources to prevent obstetric fistula via skilled labor delivery, emergency care, prenatal care, family planning and comprehensive sex education. It’s such a good bill, and it’s grim to consider that it’s currently sitting in a committee chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who has demonstrated blatant hostility to the health and well-being of women and their families in the U.S. and around the globe (yes, he traveled to Africa recently to try to put more restrictions on abortion rights there, too — how this creates jobs at home is up for anyone’s best guess) with a compassionless and bigoted anti-abortion rights crusade this legislative session. Perhaps he could grant the mothers and children he claims to care so much about a hearing on this bill. Let’s hold him accountable.

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