Dear Congresswoman

Editorial

Published March 02, 2011, issue of March 11, 2011.
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This is addressed to the Republican members of the House of Representatives who are women. It’s not a large group — 24 to be exact — representing less than a third of all women in the House, and just shy of 10% of the GOP caucus. But they could potentially provide the decisive votes to undo one of the very bad ideas being promulgated by their party in its clumsy and disingenuous attempt to trim the federal budget.

We address the women because, biology being what it is, they are the only ones in the House able to become pregnant. Not knowing any of them personally, it’s still a safe bet to assume that these GOP lawmakers, if they’ve had children, received prenatal care. That’s what most mothers-to-be who have access to health care do — they go for checkups once a month, then more frequently to review the status of the fetus, monitor their own health and absorb advice to eat nutritious meals, quit smoking, stay away from alcohol, etc.

Women without health insurance rely on Planned Parenthood, which has some clinics offering prenatal care, or they use services funded through the Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant to States, known as Title V. Or they go nowhere at all.

Prenatal care is key to preventing infant mortality, which, tragically, is an area where the United States holds a dubious honor: Of the 33 countries with “advanced economies,” America now has the highest infant mortality rate, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Meantime, the latest figures from the CIA World Factbook, from 2009, estimate that America ranks 46th in the world, with a rate of 6.26 deaths of infants under a year old per 1,000 live births.

In the face of these dreadful statistics, what do the House Republicans propose? Cut $50 million from Title V. Cut all funding to Planned Parenthood.

And so we ask Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama, where there are 9.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, would you deny poor women in your state the same type of care you undoubtedly used before giving birth to your two children?

We ask the same question of Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, both lawmakers from Tennessee, where the infant mortality rate is 8.7 per 1,000 births, and Renee Ellmers, Virginia Foxx and Sue Myrick, all from North Carolina, where the rate is 8.5.

Though these Southern states share some of the highest rates, no place is more dangerous for an infant to be born than Washington, D.C., where the rate of infant deaths per 1,000 births is 12.6, the highest in the country. And that’s not the truly shameful part. Among non-Hispanic whites in the district, the rate is 3.2. For black infants, it’s a startling 18.5.

Just for comparison: That puts the mortality rate for black babies born in the nation’s capital on par with the rate in Sri Lanka and a tad below Albania. All steps away from Capitol Hill.

Is this shocking state of affairs the fault of the federal government? Of course not. As noted above, if pregnant women eat well; avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs; take appropriate vitamins, and the like, they markedly increase the chance for a healthy birth. But that is precisely why prenatal care is essential — to identify these behaviors, and give women the tools to deal with them. After all, according to a 2006 fact sheet (issued during the Bush administration, by the way), babies born to mothers who received no prenatal care are five times more likely to die than those whose mothers were able to receive care.

We call on the 24 Republican women in the House to restore the block grant and help Planned Parenthood do its job. Find the money by decreasing tobacco and corn subsidies, which the federal government has no business supporting anyhow.

Do the math. If the 24 GOP women buck their party and vote with the Democrats on just this issue, there’d be an even 217-to-217 split.

Then surely a man or two in the Republican caucus will remember the prenatal care his wife received and realize that he can’t morally deny that to other women, either.


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