As mothers in the United States are honored with cards, dinners and presents on this Mother's Day, we at Planned Parenthood of Idaho urge you to think about all of the mothers in developing countries who do not have access to safe and healthy pregnancies and childbirth. This means that having a baby is often life threatening for these mothers. These are the same mothers who often do not have access to voluntary family planning services. Consequently, planning or spacing the number of their children is often impossible. And, for many of these mothers, there is no choice in preventing pregnancy through abstinence once married. This cycle of uncontrolled fertility is usually one of the principle factors of families, mothers and children living in perpetual poverty.
As we celebrate the importance of motherhood on this May 8, please join us in asking President Bush to restore funding to safe motherhood programs in developing countries like Zambia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. The President could save the lives of many mothers by restoring the unspent, allotted monies that Congress approves every year to the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA). In fact, this marks the Bush Administration's third year in denying this approved funding to the mothers of the world. The Administration's stated reason for continuing to withhold funding, an assertion that UNFPA supports coerced abortions in China, is baseless. In withholding the funds, the U.S. Administration seems to have accepted false and discredited allegations about UNFPA's work in China. An assessment team sent to China in 2002 by the U.S. State Department found no evidence that the Fund supported or participated in activities that involved coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization-on the contrary, it reported that UNFPA had registered its strong opposition to such practices. That fact-finding team recommended that funds allocated by Congress be released to UNFPA. Three other independent teams, from the United Nations, the British Parliament and a multi-faith panel of religious leaders, reached the same conclusion.
With over 1 billion adolescents entering their reproductive years and demand for reproductive health services increasing all over the world, each dollar makes a difference. UNFPA estimates that the withheld $34 million could have helped prevent as many as 2 million unwanted pregnancies and nearly 800,000 abortions; 4,700 maternal deaths and over 77,000 infant and child deaths in many countries. The funds could also have been used to scale up promising maternal health and HIV-prevention efforts.
UNFPA supports safe motherhood interventions in more than 140 countries-through reproductive health programs executed with local and international partners. The three-pronged strategy focuses on voluntary family planning, skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric care. UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid states that "while the average obstetrician in the United States is unlikely to see a single maternal death in his or her entire career, complications of pregnancy and childbirth remain the leading cause of death and disability for women aged 15 to 49 in many poor countries. The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 16 in the world's poorest nations compared to less than 1 in 3,700 in the United States."
This disparity in maternal health care as well as maternal death rates should be a call to action for the U.S. Government and President Bush on this Mother's Day. It is also a call to action for us-American mothers who are privileged because we give birth to our children in the United States. For more information on the funding crisis that is killing mothers like us all over the world, visit unfpa.org or call Planned Parenthood at 376-2277 to find out how you can help.
Ellie Merrick and Rachel Olson are mothers as well as employees of Planned Parenthood of Idaho.