At Least We Beat Latvia

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Bush Administration, conservatism, Women's Issues

Or, on the road to becoming a Third World shithole …

Jeff Green reports at CNN that the U.S. has the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world, according to a Save the Children/World Health Organization report.

American babies are three times more likely to die in their first month as children born in Japan, and newborn mortality is 2.5 times higher in the United States than in Finland, Iceland or Norway, Save the Children researchers found.

Only Latvia, with six deaths per 1,000 live births, has a higher death rate for newborns than the United States, which is tied near the bottom of industrialized nations with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with five deaths per 1,000 births.

In developed nations, most newborn mortality is a result of babies being born too small or too early. Prematurity and low birth weight correlate to poor prenatal care. Lack of prenatal care is associated with a 40% increase in the risk of neonatal death.

Japan was among a number of nations highly ranked mainly because they offer free health services for pregnant women and babies, while the United States suffers from disparities in access to health care.

Disparities. A delicate way to put it. Even though our hospitals generally are as well equipped as any to handle neonatal intensive care — better than most nations, possibly — a higher percentage of our babies are at risk when they are born because of those disparities. Tom Tomorrow:

Because of some unholy confluence of conservatism, free-marketism, and general head-up-ass-ism, this country has never made health care for all a national priority. Things like this are the result, and it infuriates me. Next time some right wing asshole starts talking about the scary, scary dangers of socialized medicine, just remember: among industrialized nations, only Latvia has a higher death rate for newborns than the United Fucking States of America.

For a nation as advanced and wealthy as we are alleged to be, that’s unspeakably obscene.

I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the right wingers to acknowledge this problem. Early last year Nick Kristof wrote a column about the shockingly high infant mortality rate in the U.S., and the righties attacked him for being unpatriotic and even “morally bankrupt.” I kid you not.

In the U.S. infants born to African American and poor, less well-educated mothers are disproportionately at risk. Which takes us to this Christian Science Monitor story from last week …

In 2001, US women living below the federal poverty line were four times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, five times as likely to have an unplanned birth, and more than three times as likely to have an abortion as women with income at least double the poverty line ($9,800). And these disparities are growing …

The article also notes that “the federal Title X program, which subsidizes women’s health clinics across the country, has experienced an annual decline in funding during the Bush years, when the figures are adjusted for inflation.” Title X clinics provide family planning services. Or, they used to. Three years ago the Missouri state legislature stopped funding birth control education and contraception in the clinics. From the Kansas City Star (April 10, 2006):

Missouri’s federally funded Title X clinics each year help about 30,000 low-income women, yet it’s estimated that more than 600,000 women in the state need contraceptive services. About half of these are low-income. State funding would help.

Lawmakers haven’t approved state money for birth control education and contraception for low-income women for three years. About $3.5 million was cut out of the budget in 2003. Last year legislators cut thousands of women off Medicaid, which had helped them pay for contraceptive services.

Some House members recently attempted to allow county health clinics to use state funds for contraceptive services. But most lawmakers didn’t go along. Instead they approved an amendment by Rep. Susan Phillips, a Kansas City Republican, that denied spending for contraceptives or any treatment not spelled out in the state budget. Phillips says contraceptives are not an appropriate use of tax dollars.

The editorial points out that “every dollar spent to prevent unwanted pregnancies saves taxpayers $3 in health-care costs.” But of course it’s not about cost, or even health care. It’s about wingnut morality. Bonnie Erbe writes in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

It’s no secret to those who follow Washington politics that birth control has been “next on the list” of anti-abortion, religious conservatives. Following the enthronement of President Bush’s Victorian coterie in 2001, their top priority — an imposition of “everything but” a ban on abortion — has been accomplished in five short years. Now there’s undeniable proof that abortion was not the home run they longed for, but more tantamount to first base in a long-range plan to ban birth control, too.

Erbe cites a long New York Times magazine article by Russell Shorto about the war on contraception that I’ve been meaning to blog about … so many outrages, so little blogging time. Shorto says that criminalizing birth control has been creeping up on the rightie to-do list. Opposition to birth control was pretty much a Catholic-only phenomenon twenty years ago; now the fundies and the more miswired elements among evangelicals are anti-contraception, also.

As with other efforts — against gay marriage, stem cell research, cloning, assisted suicide — the anti-birth-control campaign isn’t centralized; it seems rather to be part of the evolution of the conservative movement. The subject is talked about in evangelical churches and is on the agenda at the major Bible-based conservative organizations like Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition. It also has its point people in Congress — including Representative Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, Representative Joe Pitts and Representative Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — all Republicans who have led opposition to various forms of contraception.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is considered one of the leading intellectual figures of evangelical Christianity in the U.S. In a December 2005 column in The Christian Post titled “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” he wrote: “The effective separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age — and one of the most ominous. This awareness is spreading among American evangelicals, and it threatens to set loose a firestorm.. . .A growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue of birth control — and facing the hard questions posed by reproductive technologies.”

I’d like some of these men “facing the hard questions” to have to face a nice 18 hours or so of back labor, followed by the joy of an episiotomy.

You’ll like this part:

Many Christians who are active in the evolving anti-birth-control arena state frankly that what links their efforts is a religious commitment to altering the moral landscape of the country. In particular, and not to put too fine a point on it, they want to change the way Americans have sex.

Heart-warming, huh?

I’m not even going to go into the Bush Administration’s blocking approval of emergency contraception or the pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions. I’ve ranted many times in the past that the only sure-fire way to reduce abortion rates is to provide easy access to birth control. Here I just want to point to how the way the fundies and Fetus People — excuse me, “social conservatives” — are trying to pull the whole bleeping country into a downward spiral that leads to more poverty, more dead babies, more repression, and more of everything else that plagues the Third World. Like I said, we’re on the road to becoming a Third World shithole. The fundies won’t be happy until we’re all wrapped up in burkhas.

But I’d like to provide one more example, which you may have heard before. Tristero asks why anyone would not approve of a vaccine that would prevent cervical cancer and save lives?

Well, as it happens, our morally-stunted fellow citizens on the right have the answer to the questions. Turns out the the best time to administer the vaccine is when the girl is between 10 and 12 years old. And Hal Wallace, head of the anti-fucking activist group that’s deliberately mislabeled as”Physicians Consortium,” believes that vaccinating an 11 year-old girl against cervical cancer would send a message “that you just take this shot and you can be as sexually promiscuous as you want.” And the equally loony Family Research Council (James Dobson’s band of self-righteous prigs) says “it would oppose any measures to legally require vaccination.”

They don’t call ’em the American Taliban for nothin’.

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22 Comments

  1. alyosha  •  May 9, 2006 @7:59 pm

    And I don’t think Tristero’s name for the subject, “The War Against Fucking” is too far off the mark.

    Wonder if HR Clinton, if nominated, would have the courage to take the ball and champion this Golden Opportunity Handed on a Silver Platter For the Benefit of All, or would she wimp out. Or would any Democrat for that matter.

    I agree with Molly Ivins that the Democratic platform can be extremely simple and powerful, if only someone will have the courage to stick to these few points and press them home:

    1) Iraq is making terrorism worse; it’s a breeding ground. We need to extricate ourselves as soon as possible. We are not helping the Iraqis by staying.

    2) Full public financing of campaigns so as to drive the moneylenders from the halls of Washington.

    3) Single-payer health insurance.

    Side note, a bit OT, I came across this article that summarizes some long term research indicating that whiny kids tend to become conservatives. Scroll down to “The Politics of Personality”.

  2. Eric Blair  •  May 9, 2006 @8:34 pm

    Did you even read that article?

    Did you look at the little pop up? Which lists the ten ‘best’ and the ten ‘worst’?

    1. Sweden
    2. Denmark/Finland
    3. Austria/Germany/Norway
    7. Australia/Netherlands
    9. Canada
    10. United States/United Kingdom

    Seeing that there are only six spots because some countries tied, The US is still in the top 10 of 125 countries surveyed.

    Third world shithole?

    You wouldn’t know a third world shithole if one bit you on the ass.

  3. uncledad  •  May 9, 2006 @8:42 pm

    Maha,

    Once again a whole lot of bad policy, regressive tactics, and predictable results (“only Latvia has a higher deathrate for newborns”) I just happened to have a discussion with a co-worker today about national health care. According to him everyone (engineers that work for our company) in Canada are really unhappy with the goverment healthcare system. My response was “I bet the otherwise uninsured are quite happy”. This is a very complex topic that I am incapable of resolving. But we (the fucking United States of America) should not have more newborn deaths than anyone. Our infant mortality rate should be inversely proportional to our fossil fuel use, GDP, and general cheeseburger intake. The one number that stands out in your post is $9,800.00? Poverty line? That wouldn’t keep me in cigarettes, beer, and high speed internet for a year.

  4. A. Citizen  •  May 9, 2006 @8:48 pm

    I blogged about this three years ago and the situation has gotten no better.

    We of the blogosphere must build our networks so that the people of America can become informed on what is really going on here. Not what the likes of the foul PumpkinHead, Tweety, The Beard and their ilk with their endless stream of lies would have them believe.

  5. uncledad  •  May 9, 2006 @9:07 pm

    Eric Blair,

    What happened to #’s 4, 5, 6, and 8. They didn’t fit into your rant?

  6. maha  •  May 9, 2006 @9:17 pm

    You wouldn’t know a third world shithole if one bit you on the ass.

    Eric the Flaming Idiot was looking at the popup for maternal mortality, not for infant mortality. He should click on the tab for “Newborn Mortality in the Industrialized World” and be humbled. The U.S. comes in 32 out of 33 nations.

    Jeez, righties are soooo stupid.

  7. justme  •  May 9, 2006 @11:25 pm

    Geez , you all but drew them a map to the link and STILL plain facts escape them…coming in 32 out of 33 how much closer can we get to a third world shit hole?ONE? Perhaps eric made an error but I tend to wonder if he didn’t just see what he wanted to see or perhaps he is unaware of the difference between “infant mortality” and maternal.How sad when the topic is so very serious.

    When I read your post , Maha , I was shocked and sickened.It is even worse then I thought Now and I believe the worst is ahead.On the news hour (pbs the only tv news worth watching) a few nights ago I caught a fraction of discussion about a 72 hour 2 pill contraceptive.The person who was against the drug was clear that taking that drug was equal to an abortion,and that the drug shouldn’t be made, much less legal….but then she went on to say that all birth control was murder in her eyes.Where does that end?I don’t want to have a graphic can of worms opened here but, does a woman have to stand on her head for hours after lest she be considered a murder?I really don’t mean to be gross I honestly wonder where it will end…could a wife be charged with a crime if her husband decides she didn’t do all she could everytime?(to make a baby I mean)……

    Meanwhile we as a nation still can’t seem to give more then lip service to those innocent lives the right claims to have so much concern for?I bet righties won’t hold rallies or hold candles for any of these children, I bet they won’t target the problem the way they target women going into family planning clinics…I bet they don’t say a word.

    I hate to sound like an Oprah commercial but beyond our politics it is time for women to come together and stand up for ourselves, for our daughters BEFORE it’s too late…too long ago we stopped being respected and we just let it happen…For the sake of future generations this generation is being called to stand up ..I hope we answer.

    Sometimes the truth is just heartbreaking.. but thanks for bringing it to us anyhow!

  8. Brian Carnell  •  May 10, 2006 @12:38 am

    Actually, the United States infant mortality rate is almost certainly significantly *better* than Japan’s.

    The problem is that Japan and the rest of the world measure infant mortality in a way that is incompatible with the way the U.S. measures infant mortality. So you can’t directly compare, say, Japan to the U.S. because, literally, there are a lot of dead babies Japan simply doesn’t count.

    What we have here is a bit like taking height measurements for europe in meters and u.s. height measurements in feet and saying that Americans are all a bunch of giants.

  9. zeuS  •  May 10, 2006 @1:45 am

    “In a strong statement Monday, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology said the FDA is wrong and motivated by politics. The group launched a campaign urging doctors to give women prescriptions for the pills now.”

    Aren’t these the same doctors that Congress is trying to protect by passing a law to limit malpractice liability? (because there are just too many lawsuits by women that have problems in childbirth). Seems to me if they were so concerned about the doctors, they just might listen to them. Oh silly me – that legislation isn’t for the doctors – it’s for the insurance companies!

    Certainly though, conservative lawmakers would intervene with regards to the FDA blocking the availabilty of the Plan B pill. Wouldn’t the pill result in less abortions thereby making the Christians happy? And if the Christians are happy, then the lawmakers are happy – right? Wrong again. If there are women that need this pill, it means that they are having sex (whether it be rape, a condom that broke, or even a married couple with five children living at the poverty level – and what is that – about $150 per week?) So if the christians aren’t happy, then neither are the lawmakers so forget that idea.

    Maybe Bush and the men of Congress would look at this issue a little differently if James Dobson was in bed with them to make sure they didn’t “pull out” before they were done – after all, isn’t that birth control?

    On the other hand, if I were the type that believed in conspiracy theories, maybe these people just want the world to be so overpopulated that it just could no longer sustain itself. Wouldn’t that lead to the end of the world – and the Rapture?

  10. zeuS  •  May 10, 2006 @2:01 am

    It’s unfortunate that I use the term Christian in a negative light. I believe that the true meaning of the word has been hijacked by the christian right, born-agains, etc. Maybe a subject for another day.

  11. maha  •  May 10, 2006 @6:37 am

    The problem is that Japan and the rest of the world measure infant mortality in a way that is incompatible with the way the U.S. measures infant mortality. So you can’t directly compare, say, Japan to the U.S. because, literally, there are a lot of dead babies Japan simply doesn’t count.

    I know this is widely believed among righties, but it isn’t true. I did considerable research after the first time I heard it. The differences in the way various nations figure infant mortality are so slight as to be statistically insignificant. So unless you can come up with documentation, I suggest you retire that little howler.

  12. maha  •  May 10, 2006 @6:51 am

    I bet they won’t target the problem the way they target women going into family planning clinics…I bet they don’t say a word.

    Of course they won’t. Instead, like Brian up in comment #8, they make up fairy tales so they can pretend the problem doesn’t exist.

    In fairness, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. has been high compared to other industrialized nations for a great many years. This was true back in the 1980s when I was having babies and reading up on maternity-related stuff, and it had been that way a long time before that. But it seems we’re slipping further behind.

  13. Donna  •  May 10, 2006 @8:06 am

    A real man will enjoy a woman’s sexuality. Weenies are weenies because they cannot match a woman’s sexuality….a weenie needs to reduce his wife to a dutiful child machine… often the weenie has to pay a hooker on the side to ‘enjoy’ any forbidden-creates-titillating sex.

    Do not expect weenies to be about the real business of protecting babies….they are all about degrading women to hide their lack of sexual maturity which never got past the teen level.

  14. modus potus  •  May 10, 2006 @8:44 am

    The difference Brian is talking about hinges on the definition of stillbirth vs. live birth. Some countries define a live birth as a newborn showing any heart or muscle activity, while others require that the newborn at least attempt to breathe. Japan and some European nations use the latter definition, while the U.S. and many other nations use the former (which is the one WHO recommends). WHO attempts to compensate for these and other biases, but as a UN organization you know what the righties think of their efforts.

    The idea is that the U.S. infant mortality rate includes births where the infant has a heartbeat but never breathes, while some other countries would count such a birth as a stillbirth.

    In any case, the fraction of stillbirths where the ambiguity comes into play isn’t large enough to throw the ranking off by much — Brian is surely blowing smoke with his claim that the Japanese, with an official rate of half the U.S., in reality have a higher rate. Although stillbirth is common (around 8.7/1000 in the U.S.), the number of ambiguous cases is going to be considerably smaller than his claim would require — it appears that the vast majority of stillbirths are indeed “still.” You aren’t going to make up the 3.24/1000 difference in infant mortality between the U.S. and Japan with what’s left.

  15. maha  •  May 10, 2006 @9:20 am

    In any case, the fraction of stillbirths where the ambiguity comes into play isn’t large enough to throw the ranking off by much —

    Exactly my point. There are some differences in the way different nations determine their infant mortality rates, but these differences have a negligible impact on the numbers. At most they’ll move a nation from 5.0 to 5.1 deaths per 1,000 infants. And, as you say, the health experts take these differences into account. They are not, as Brian suggests, comparing apples to oranges.

  16. joanr16  •  May 10, 2006 @1:29 pm

    “[T]here are a lot of dead babies Japan simply doesn’t count.”

    I love the way some commenters make statements like the above without providing facts, links, sources, contexts, or any other form of elucidation.

    Taken as a whole, maha’s post lets out the political Right’s dirtiest little secret: they’re no different from the religious Right, in that they want to control who has sex and how we have it. The subsequent Rightie comments indicate they’ve reached this insane pass because they have no interest in reality.

  17. Swami  •  May 10, 2006 @3:07 pm

    they’re no different from the religious Right

    I disagree. Although there are many similarities which appear on the surface in a comparison between the two;a closer examination for differences reveals that the religious right possesses a deeper, more penetratingly gnarled sexuality. I can’t offer a link to support my assertion because I generally don’t make record of sites that espouse or support crippling ideas.
    But if anybody is interested in taking a closer look at the demon of religious sexuality they might begin by googling: Onanism, Christian support groups for martial relationships devastated by Onanism, Sexual purity in Christ, Westboro Baptist Church, Exorcizing sexual demons.

  18. Swami  •  May 10, 2006 @3:32 pm

    Oh…there’s a typo that needs correction..That ‘s marital not martial.. I normally don’t have the need to project perfection but that typo changes significantly the meaning of the idea being conveyed.

    The good thing about typo’s is that they can serve in a subtle way to allow others to feel good about themselves without ever being aware that their intellect has been stroked.

  19. terry  •  May 10, 2006 @4:27 pm

    On your larger point, this country has always had to confront the bizarre consortium of the political and religious right. What would you expect when you combine Puritans with Capitalists? It also explains why pornagraphy is so popular and prevalant. With respect to newborn mortality, thanks for explaining the discrepancy in counting methods and why it is statiscally unimportant. Final question I have is whether the rates of drug and alcohol use by mothers in this country can be factored into the mix. It seems obvious to me that poor prenatal care is the largest factor, but you know someone on the right will suggest that it is the drug and alcohol use by poor (and not so poor) mothers in this country that explains the low rankings.

  20. maha  •  May 10, 2006 @6:46 pm

    With respect to newborn mortality, thanks for explaining the discrepancy in counting methods and why it is statiscally unimportant.

    I’m looking into this some more, because the righties are still in denial and I think we’re possibly all short on facts. However, I found one table that shows that if you compare the infant mortality rate for only white U.S. infants, the U.S. rates are closer to that of other industrialized nations. But African Americans have a considerably higher infant mortality rate (even though, I assume, the rate is calculated the same way as for whites), which raises the average.

    Also, if you factor in fetal deaths after 28 weeks’ gestation, which would eliminate different ways of counting which babies are stillborn and which died after birth, the U.S. looks a little better but is still below average.

    Final question I have is whether the rates of drug and alcohol use by mothers in this country can be factored into the mix. It seems obvious to me that poor prenatal care is the largest factor, but you know someone on the right will suggest that it is the drug and alcohol use by poor (and not so poor) mothers in this country that explains the low rankings.

    Surely there is drug and alcohol abuse elsewhere. We don’t have a lock on it.

  21. terry  •  May 10, 2006 @6:52 pm

    Thanks for the input Maha. I have come to rely on blogs like yours for news that has any political overtones. If you start doing sports and weather I will cancel my subscription to the local newspaper.

  22. modus potus  •  May 11, 2006 @7:11 am

    Also, if you factor in fetal deaths after 28 weeks’ gestation, which would eliminate different ways of counting which babies are stillborn and which died after birth, the U.S. looks a little better but is still below average.

    That’s arguably a better measure of maternal care than infant mortality in any case. The problem is that such stats aren’t universally kept, and are even less uniform than infant mortality stats — there are other thresholds than 28 weeks, for example.
    As for why U.S. stats are so poor, one factor is teenage pregnancy. Teens who become pregnant before their bodies have finished maturing have a higher complication rate, and higher fetal mortality. Given that the U.S. has a higher teenage pregnancy rate than most of the developed world, this is something else to be considered.

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