Each year, about one million infants around the world die on the same day they’re born. That figure includes about 11,300 U.S. babies — the highest first-day infant mortality rate of any other country in the industrialized world, according to a new report from Save the Children. In fact, the United States’ rate of first-day infant death is 50 percent more than all the other industrialized countries in the report combined.
Many babies who die at birth were born too early, and others suffer infections or complications at birth. Many of those infants could be actually be saved with fairly cheap medical interventions, the advocacy group says. The first day of life is the most dangerous day for mothers and babies, but expanding access to several products that cost under $6 each — bag-and-mask devices to help babies breathe, antiseptic to prevent umbilical cord infections, antibiotics to treat infections, and steroids to delay pre-term labor — could help save an estimated one million infants around the world.
Save the Children isn’t sure exactly why the United States has such a high rate of first-day infant mortality. But the group suspects it’s partly related to the country’s high rates of unintended pregnancies and teen births, as well as persistent issues of economic and racial inequality:
Teen births are partly to blame, the report says — echoing other research that has shown this. The U.S. has the highest teenage birth rate of any industrialized country.
“Teenage mothers in the U.S. tend to be poorer, less educated, and receive less prenatal care than older mothers. Because of these challenges, babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be low-birthweight and be born prematurely and to die in their first month. They are also more likely to suffer chronic medical conditions, do poorly in school, and give birth during their teen years (continuing the cycle of teen pregnancy),” the report says.
“Poverty, racism and stress are likely to be important contributing factors to first-day deaths in the United States and other industrialized countries.” […]
Half of all U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, another complicating factor, the report says. Women whose pregnancies are accidental are much less likely to take good care of themselves and to get thorough prenatal care, from vaccines to vitamins, that can protect the baby and her.
Considering the United States’ dismal record on infant mortality, it seems to follow that advancing programs to support youth who may become pregnant, as well as expanding women’s access to preventative health services like contraception and prenatal and maternal care, would be a top priority for both women’s health groups and pro-life groups. But that hasn’t exactly been the case in the United States. Intent on attacking family planning services as well as abortion, anti-choice activists have successfully waged a war against some of the same health resources that could help the U.S. prevent infant deaths at rates closer to other industrialized nations.
Many far-right abortion opponents have fought hard against Obamacare, which helps expand women’s access to gender-specific health care services like birth control and prenatal check-ups, because they claim that insurance coverage for contraception is a violation of religious liberty. And Republican lawmakers have continued to target Planned Parenthood, advancing measures to defund the national women’s health organization even at the expense of the low-income women who rely on those clinics for their primary care. At the education level, anti-abortion activists often fight against comprehensive sexual health resources in public schools — particularly when those services are provided by Planned Parenthood — even though those programs have been proven to do a better job at preventing unplanned pregnancies than abstinence-only curricula.
Instead of focusing efforts on policy solutions to help lower the nation’s infant mortality rate, the right-wing has most recently been fixated on the high-profile trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, accused of killing live babies in his illegal Philadelphia-area clinic. Declaring Gosnell’s crimes as proof that all late-term abortion services represent “infanticide,” abortion opponents have raised alarm over what they perceive as a widespread human rights issue.